Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

Sick, twisted, bad, hilarious, tragic, this is the word salad that Richard Bates Jr's debut feature might well provoke in the mind of you, the viewer. It's wrong, but it's fun, and at times touches on some heavier issues such as alienation and the suburban experience. It's likely to remind you of a lot of other guilty pleasures you liked back in the Eighties and Nineties. At just 80 minutes long, it zips along nicely and doesn't outstay its welcome. Just don't watch before dinner or before letting your kids go out on a date.

Excision's plot centres on young Pauline (a ballsy, gonzo performance from 90210's AnnaLynne McCord): a morbid, antisocial scab-picker of a teen who is suffering her own suburban hell. Her father Bob is ineffective in the face of a suffocating born-again mother Phyllis (genre star Traci Lords), everyone at high school is, without exception, an asshole, her patronising local priest (directorial legend John Waters) bugs her beyond belief, and her aspirations for a career in medicine seem somewhat ambitious. Pauline only has time for her younger sister Grace, who is suffering from cystic fibrosis and whose chances are not looking good.

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Most of the film sees Pauline ricocheting off these various pressure points, dismissing and disgusting those in her path with acid put downs or just outright disgusting behaviour (her entrapment and bodily humiliation in a one-night stand of school hunk Adam is one for the record books, far too gross to mention here). But the narrative is dotted with vividly shot Grand Guignol dream sequences, full of rivers of dark fluids, operatic contortions and couplings of blood-drenched bodies, that remind us that Pauline's curiosity might not end with simply cutting up roadkill pigeons. Pauline is, in fact, delusional, and dangerously so. The air of comedy eventually gives way to tragedy as Pauline decides that she might be able to take up her medical career sooner rather than later- starting with getting a new pair of lungs for her little sister.

Based originally on a short film of the same name, Bates's debut is a boldly-coloured love letter to genre horror and all those directors who shaped the suburban behind-the-picket-fences disturbia genre, particularly those featuring striking female leads. Despite the genre legends in the cast, young McCord, decked out in lank-haired greasy wig with a good dollop of cold sore makeup, deserves the main plaudits for a fearless and very witty performance that clearly required getting her hands and body very grubby in a lot of red goop. It may not have anything too sophisticated or surprising to say about parent-child suburban relationships and teen angst, and the comedy-horror tone doesn't shift too smoothly, but this is witty, stylish and brisk debut feature filmmaking that will make you laugh and cringe at the same time. Genre fans, start getting in line.

Reviewed on: 07 Oct 2012
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A disturbed and delusional high school student with aspirations of a career in medicine goes to extremes to earn the approval of her controlling mother.
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Director: Richard Bates Jr

Writer: Richard Bates Jr

Starring: AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Ariel Winter, Roger Bart, John Waters

Year: 2012

Runtime: 81 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US, South Africa


Sundance 2012

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