“If I do get into heaven, and my relatives have been watching over me, a lot of relationships may have been compromised.”
I can’t exactly say this wasn’t what I expected because from first shot to last, Excision is as blood-drenched as any horror movie I’ve seen, and that’s all I really wanted or expected from it. Shortly before this, I saw American Mary (which I’ll review soon – I intend to watch it again first) and from the first scene there I really expected this decade’s May, but in the end wasn’t exactly satisfied. It was a thrill then, with every passing minute of Excision, to realise that the weirdness I craved was right here. Having watched it twice now, and with few notable titles yet to see from last year, I’m fairly sure this was my favourite movie of 2012 by a long way.
To explain the story without spoiling anything, it actually resembles American Mary in a lot of ways. A young woman with aspirations to be a surgeon finds the more standard route to that profession, shall we say, blocked to her (in American Mary it’s more of a money/misogyny thing; here, the young woman is the high school weirdo). Where the Mary of American Mary is (initially, at least – but compared to Pauline here, totally) balanced even in her alternate pursuits, however, Pauline here is clearly troubled inside. The first shot of the movie is one of many insights into her mind that punctuate the film, and where most of the gore is seen – two Paulines face each other in a clinical blue room. One of them seems to be in horrific pain, blood pouring from her mouth – the other is quite the opposite, seemingly more orgasmic with every drop of blood she sees come out of the other. Pauline often comes out of these grotesque visions visibly aroused – there’s no question she’s not “normal”. Whether you take this movie to heart as much as I did I guess will depend on where you draw the line between fantasies and reality.
AnnaLynne McCord’s Pauline here is played to lip-curling precision, if anything in fact out-weirding Angela Bettis’s May, but the focus isn’t just on the oddball teen. The surprise here is the equal attention given to the parents (Traci Lords – I thought she was Hope Davis till I saw the credits! amazing performance – and Roger Bart). Their own struggle in dealing with one daughter who’s a misfit and another with cystic fibrosis is given so much weight I imagine my sympathies will shift each time I watch this movie in future in the same way as when I watch The Bad Seed depending on my mood. The mother is a horrible character, spouting unbelievably narrow views at each dinner scene (where the movie most clearly pays homage to American Beauty), and in a flashback to Pauline’s near-drowning telling her father (after he gives her a last minute kiss of life), “You have a cold sore on your lips, you should’ve waited for the lifeguard!” But there is something there that tells you she can’t help it any more than Pauline can, that she’s doing her best with everything she’s been directly or indirectly, for better or worse, taught is right.
I’ve seen a lot of comments on the movie saying the ending was predictable but I think that’s kind of the point – the inevitability of the final unbearable scene underlines even the funniest moments leading up to it. Myself, I had an inkling of where it was going, but not of who the real victim would wind up being, and that reveal broke my heart profoundly. The writer/director Richard Bates, Jr joked on Twitter recently, “Some people say Excision’s a horror film. Others say it’s a comedy. I call it a period piece.” You’ll get it when you see it, but I can honestly take it as a serious statement too – with its precise tonal balance of extreme gore, the darkest comedy, and final tragic pain, it speaks volumes about how unbalanced people end up actually acting out the horrific things in their head at this precise moment in time. It’s the American Beauty of horror movies.