Review by Tristan Bishop
The dictionary describes the word excision as ‘removal by cutting’ – which, ironically, is the opposite of what we’re presented with here, as Excision is an elongated version of a short film from 2008 with the same name. It passed me by in the original format, but apparently did well enough to warrant some money spent on bringing it to feature length. I had heard a great deal about this film before I received my copy – a lot of it very positive, and a smaller amount rather less so – and a glance at the cast list (Malcolm McDowell! Traci Lords! John Waters!!) served to amp my curiosity up to a massive degree. Words like ‘disturbing’ and ‘beautiful’ were being used with abandon. ‘Sounds like my kind of thing’, I thought, and so I fed the little disc into the DVD player and prepared to be impressed.
Excision is the story of a teenage outcast called Pauline (played by AnnaLynn McCord), with a religious mother (amusing casting here as she is played by former underage porn star Traci Lords) who just wants her to confirm. She also has a younger sister who suffers from cystic fibrosis. Pauline, it transpires, is a little odd – she picks scabs, wants to become a surgeon, has very odd dreams/fantasies and a rather unhealthy obsession with blood. She propositions a high school jock to take her virginity and, in a rather unlikely twist, he agrees. Meanwhile she is sent to see a priest to try and iron her out (good casting again as John Waters is the man in the dog collar), which she doesn’t exactly take kindly to.
Unfortunately that’s pretty much all the plot I can give you without a visit to spoiler hell, and if it seems like there isn’t really much story here, it’s because, well, there isn’t. Excision is only 81 minutes long, but it feels twice the length, and rather repetitive, as we are given an endless parade of ineffectual authority figures trying to ‘help’ whilst Pauline has her fantasies and slowly lets them spill over into real life. We don’t get a real sense of movement with this, however – we know from the offset that Pauline is disturbed, and we spend the film waiting around for this to reach a tragic outcome. Unlike the masterful We Need To Talk About Kevin, which amps up the tension using a clever narrative structure and increasingly disturbing revelations, this film just kind of plods along with various surreal and slightly icky moments, which did give me some slightly queasy stomach moments at times, but nothing approaching real engagement with the material.
The other reason for lack of engagement here is the script. Pauline is obviously supposed to be a sympathetic character despite her gruesome interests, and we are supposed to feel sorry for her as she deals with the repression of the authority figures in the film. Unfortunately she is also one of the most annoying, self-centered and rude central characters in any film I have seen in recent memory, and, whilst occasionally over-bearing and inconsiderate, the adult characters do mostly seem to want to want to help her. Perhaps it’s my advancing years, but I spent most of the film wanting to grab Pauline and shake her and tell her to stop being such a dick to everyone.
There are commendable things here: the dream sequences are visually stunning, painterly almost, but they serve to do little other than remind us that Pauline is ‘odd’, and actually end up being a little irritating because of this – I would much rather see some acting doing the same job. The performance by AnnaLynn McCord is actually rather good, and quite the physical transformation; and Traci Lords’ work here is actually excellent, proving that she is, once and for all, a proper actor. Unfortunately, McDowell and Waters are wasted in what amount to cameo roles, which served to heighten my disappointment, as I could watch both these guys recite the phone book and not get bored.
Perhaps I wasn’t the target audience for this film, having never been a teenage girl with a surgery fetish (and actually, even I was, I may have been mildly offended by it), but I was alternately bored and irritated throughout Excision. Some ‘removal by cutting’ may have been required after all.
Excision is out now on Region 1 DVD and Blu-Ray from Anchor Bay. In the UK, it’s screening at numerous festivals this month before hitting DVD & Blu-ray in the UK on 12 November 2012, from Monster Pictures.