★★★ / ★★★★
In the hands of a filmmaker with weak vision and unfocused execution, “Excision,” written and directed by Richard Bates Jr., might have become a cheap gorefest, yet another tired effort with nothing on its mind but to deliver violence, screams, and shocking imagery. But here is a horror picture that explores the line between being teenager who just so happens to be both ravaged by hormones and a psychopath in-the-making, slowly but surely being taken over by irrationality. The ending is pitch-black perfect.
The subject is named Pauline, a high school senior with who we assume to have been bullied all her life because of her physical appearance. Her face acne-ridden, hair wild and uncombed, clothes almost dangling off her lanky frame, she is consistently ridiculed, both at school and at home. AnnaLynne McCord plays her character smart. Instead of making Pauline a one-note character by portraying the character as someone who is able to bounce back from all the insults hurled at her, those eyes communicate paragraphs. Take notice when Pauline is being chastised, mocked, punished by her peers, authority figures, her parents: she has a habit of rolling her eyes. But there is pain there; she questions why she is never good enough when her judges are extremely flawed themselves.
This picture reminded me of misfit adolescent pictures such as Todd Solondz’ “Welcome to the Dollhouse” and Richard Kelly’s “Donnie Darko.” Both pictures embody a certain look and mood that fit exactly in the mold of the story being told. This is not just a story about a teenager with grand delusions. (Several peeks into Pauline’s dreams and fantasies are equally gross, beautiful, and disturbing.) This is about such delusions grabbing hold and taking over the mind. At first, we laugh at Pauline and her unlucky circumstances. But with each passing scene, especially near the halfway point, we learn to stop laughing, take her a little more seriously, and wonder what she is truly capable of.
I admired Bates Jr.’s decision to minimize scenes of violence and mutilation. By doing so, he guides us to consider what the movie is about rather than simply experiencing a genre. While it does embody numerous elements typically found in horror films, a strong argument can be made that this is not a horror flick but a psychological drama. It respects the characters but at the same time it is not afraid to skewer them for their own hypocrisies.
“Excision” will not work for everyone but it did work for me. I always look for interesting characters and this picture offers one that is worth looking into. While Pauline has a fascination with opening up people’s bodies, I wanted to crack open her skull and dig deep into the darkest corners of her psychology.