Excision Blu-ray Review
Written by Daniel Benson
Blu-ray released by Monster Pictures UK
Written and directed by Richard Bates Jr.
2012, Region B, 81 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
Blu-ray released on 12th November 2012
AnnaLynne McCord as Pauline
Traci Lords as Phyllis
Ariel Winter as Grace
Roger Bart as Bob
Jeremy Sumpter as Adam
John Waters as William
Malcolm McDowell as Mr. Cooper
Over the last couple of years I’ve caught films at London’s Frightfest that have been the divisive subjects of much critical monkey-spanking. On the one hand, those that call themselves critics tend to enthuse over and generally spill their milky-white reviewing seed on the upturned faces of such titles as 2011’s Kill List and The Woman and from this year’s festival, arty snore-fest Berberian Sound Studio. All these films and their ilk have one thing in common: they divide the fans and us mere mortals who call ourselves 'reviewers'. And I usually hate them (the films, not fans or reviewers). While not part of 2012’s Frightfest, Excision was on the bill for their Halloween All-Nighter, an event I was unfortunately unable to attend. It’s another under-the-radar title that has been gaining internet notoriety as an accomplished first feature from director Richard Bates Jr. It too falls firmly into my “What’s all the fuss about?” box.
It’s not that Excision is a bad film, far from it. It is beautifully shot and has some sterling performances from AnnaLyne McCord, Traci Lords and Roger Bart. The film’s focus is Pauline (McCord), a teenage outsider in every sense of the word. She takes no care of her appearance and generally seems to thrive on being an object of ridicule for the archetypal high-school beauties she shares her classes with. In her spare time she studies anatomy and dreams of becoming a surgeon. And it’s her dreams that present some of the most striking and disturbing imagery of the film.
Outside her school life she’s constantly at loggerheads with her uptight, religious mother (Traci Lords) and rarely supported by her damp squib Dad (Roger Bart, playing the perfect patriarchal underdog). Pauline’s issues run deep and despite her need for serious medical help, her mother opts to send her for spiritual rather than psychological counseling under the guidance of Father William, played by sleaze director John Waters. Pauline’s younger sister, the only person she truly cares about, has cystic fibrosis and the worry further chips away at Pauline’s mental stability. It’s inevitable that Pauline will snap at some point, and the result of her unraveling leaves the film with an ending that will not be forgotten in a hurry.
Excision weighs in at just 80 minutes and has been developed from Bates’ short of the same name. For the first 75 minutes, the film is extremely linear and sequential: Pauline does something to show she’s a bit unhinged, Pauline has a fantasy about surgery and dead people. Repeat. In fact, I’d go as far to say that if you removed all the dream sequences you’d be left with a fairly average, darkly comedic, angst-ridden high school drama. My main issue is that I didn’t connect with Pauline as the film’s central character. She tips the scales of obnoxious outsider almost to the point of being an annoying hipster who acts the way she does to deliberately antagonize her class mates. Also, I could not get away from the image of her perfect white teeth that seemed completely out of sorts with her self-loathing personality.
Only the last five minutes of the film made any resonance with me, and to Bates’ credit the final scenes are tragically horrific and will create a lasting memory. It’s just a shame it takes 75 minutes of dullness to get to the payoff. This director has a bright future assured if he can bring the skills he displays in Excision to a properly developed feature. As it stands, this stretching of a short into a full-length movie fails to connect.
Video and Audio:
This Blu-ray from Monster Pictures looks stunning, with the clarity of the format really benefiting both the lurid and gory fantasy scenes as well as Pauline's mundane daily life. The DTS Master HD audio never really needs to impress, but does a fine job throughout.
It's a fairly bare-bones effort in terms of extras; there's an audio commentary with the director and AnnaLyne McCord and a trailer. Including the original short would have been a nice touch to be able to reference the source, but this opportunity is missed.
*Note: The screenshots on this page are publicity stills and not a reflection of the Blu-ray image.*