Excision, the feature-length directorial debut from Richard Bates Jr., is a coming-of-age body horror that, for once in recent horror history, doesn’t out-stay its welcome. At 81 minutes, we get a satisfying character arc for the protagonist, progressive dramatic structure and an ending that is somewhat predictable but still successfully shocking.
Pauline, an introvert 18 year old high schooler, aspires to be surgeon after college, despite her lack of interest at high school. Her mother, played by Traci Lords (of 80s porn infamy), is a true matriarch, reigning tuts and scowls over her cystic fibrosis-suffering sister and emasculated father. A lot of scenes are shot in first-person, or at least eye level mid shots, in which we get actors talking down the camera. These shots, combined with the mis-en-scene, are very effective at presenting the nuances of the family relationships. Also set up is white picket fence, post-OC, affluent American dream lifestyle for the family, which emphasises Pauline’s increasingly odd behaviour.
If you’ve seen Dogtooth you’ll know the tone of this movie, which is to say that some of the characters are verging on oddball caricatures, yet they are still extremely compelling. There is a sense of humour sewn into the fabric of the narrative, which had me laughing out loud. Whether or not this was a reflex to juxtapose some of the imagery it can’t be said. The costume and make up for Pauline make her look absolutely filthy, which when coupled with her blood fetish, created a series of extremely abject set pieces that even had me saying ‘no don’t!’ out loud on one occasion. Nevertheless, these images weren’t abject like the Saw franchise, but abject like Peter Jackson’s Braindead; they are disgustingly ‘gross-out’ funny. What I found amazing is that AnnaLynn McCord (Pauline) is ‘Hollywood’ attractive in real life but the production designers made her look really disgusting, which I found completely believable.
As the movie is quite short and peppered with dream sequences it flies by and hits fifth gear at the end. To say there is a twist in a film, even without revealing the specifics, is a spoiler. Luckily in this movie you see what is going to happen from early on, which creates a slow burn until the climax and is very, very effective.
Excision, as a body horror, has all the sub-genre tropes you would want, and as a horror it delivers on a number of levels. I, for one, am looking forward to Bates Jr.’s second directorial outing.