*WARNING* This will shit you up. Contains extreme violence and should be approached with caution. Released in the UK 12th April.
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.
‘Celebrities are not people, they are group hallucinations’
I had high hopes for Antiviral. My expectations were probably higher than they should have been for a debut film, regardless of who Brandon Cronenberg’s father is [David Cronenberg; Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly]. I’d stayed away from promotional material, bar one trailer last year, and was happy to pay Apple £3.69 to rent the movie after missing out on it at the cinema.
Antiviral comments on a society obsessed with celebrity. In an unknown location in the near future, a clinic has developed the means to copyright and distribute celebrity viruses. Fans can be infected with all manner of illnesses (flu, or in one case, herpes of the mouth) in the pursuit to feel closer to their idols. Syd, a respected member of this clinic – the Lucas Clinic – becomes embroiled in a murder conspiracy and has to find out answers before it is too late.
It sounds quite exciting, doesn’t it? Well, the first half hour it is fantastic. The protagonist, Syd, is set up well, despite playing his character in monotone. The production design sets the mood of the film; bright whites and harsh blacks drown out what little colour there is in the frame; even the Tropicana juice in Syd’s fridge looks a desaturated pastel orange tone. Thematically, I wouldn’t call it subtext, because it is blindingly obvious, but the commentary about celebrity obsession enables Cronenberg to pay homage to his father’s body horror tropes, and there are a number of scenes that are visceral to the point of difficult to watch. Additionally, the camerawork, post production elements (slow motion), the sound design and pacing of the story all enhance the mystery and leave you on the edge of your seat.
Then Act 2 hits, and in my opinion, the film loses each wheel slowly and catastrophically grinds to a halt. Despite Cronenberg’s execution of the theme being extremely original at beginning, by the midway point of the movie I had essentially lost interest. All the aspects of the film I enjoyed at the beginning began to get tiresome. This isn’t because I wanted to see gunfights, explosions, etc, but I found it difficult to root for any of the characters and their various plights. They were all immensely unlikeable, played in that ‘indie’ monotone, expressionless way, like they had all been lifted from Brick. I’m not sure if it was an acting style or director choice, but Syd’s “I’m really ill” face made him look constipated rather than like he had really bad flu. The sickly, high contrast visuals were difficult to stomach, there were a number of plot holes, and some character choices that were verging on the embarrassing for the screenwriter. The story plodded along up to the climax and denouement, which both offered massive disappointment, then it just finished. And yes, the credits had no music.
I think I may have to watch it again, but overall, I was disappointed. Disappointed I had such high hopes for the flick, disappointed that the idea offered so much at the beginning but completely lost its way, and disappointed that I am going to have to refer to him now as Brandon. It’s going to take a lot to earn back his Cronenberg, but judging by the first 30 mins of Antivrial, he has definitely got it in him.