A stewpot only a film-school geek could concoct — tossing in equal parts Cronenberg, Kubrick, Jodorowsky, Greenaway, Johns Waters and Hughes (among others) — “Excision” is technically polished juvenilia that provokes without resonance. Writer-director Richard Bates. Jr. draws on years of movie-watching for his Grand Guignol of an antisocial teen beset with ultraviolent, erotic nightmares and delusions of becoming a self-taught surgeon. Assured heavy global rotation on the genre fest circuit, the pic’s X-rated appeal commercially will cut both ways.
Announcing its stylish profile from the opening frame of the title in white letters against a loud turquoise background, and cutting to twinned women in a surreal, bright interior, one looking like she’s about to erupt in a bloody explosion, this is a movie that’s instantly in your face and won’t back away. The persistent question, however, is whether the suburban nightmare that plays out is anything more than an elaborate smashing together of camp, horror, psychodrama and high school melodrama into a display of sound and fury signifying nothing.
Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord, often looking so drawn and pallid that she could be a Holocaust survivor) is a study in pure alienation — from her uber-Christian mom Phyllis (Traci Lords); her pudgy, weak-kneed dad Bob (Roger Bart); her moralistic church pastor William (John Waters); popular school kids like Natalie (Molly McCook); and her teachers (Malcolm McDowell and Matthew Gray Gubler).
Her face dominated by acne and cold sores, her posture resembling that of Ichabod Crane on a bad day, and her voice emerging through sarcastically framed lips and teeth that seem to be held in some kind of lockjaw, Pauline is a study in such absurd ugliness that she oozes camp from her not very sanitary pores. She’s obviously a creature who’s the spawn of Waters’ school of camp-grotesque, as well as a twisted upside-down version of some of Hughes’ alienated kids.
That she’s not already in an asylum and protected from the rest of society is its own absurdity, but she loves her ailing younger sister, Grace (Ariel Winter), who’s in need of a lung transplant. As her nearly pornographic nightmares grow more vivid, Pauline engages in snarky prayers to a God she barely believes in and dinnertime spats with an increasingly stressed-out Phyllis, who thinks the solution to her disturbed daughter’s problems is cotillion classes.
Hounded and berated by high-school authorities (including a perfectly cast Ray Wise as the principal), Pauline has her wanton eye on Natalie’s stud b.f. Adam, and, in a climax that’s less intense than intended, gives Grace her own insane brand of “medical assistance.”
Underneath the blood-soaked brio and impressively glossy veneer, “Excision” is little more than a flip telling of a girl’s psychological need to act out and prove her talents against all naysayers. As such, it’s less frightening than it is a tech geek’s wet dream of pop-colored widescreen effects and sensations, larded with cultural jokiness and sarcasm.
The cast camps it up, led by McCord impressively maintaining a highly theatrical delivery throughout that will drive some auds up a wall and amuse others, and firmly supported by an impressive Lords, Bart, McCook, McDowell and the spoofy Wise.
Art-directed to a fare-thee-well, this is a movie that swims in a rainbow of bright primary colors, often red, care of d.p. Itay Gross and production designer Armen Ra, who goes wild with the set pieces for Pauline’s nightmares.