“Long story short, I want to reshape my navel, and allowance won’t cover it.”
Long story short is precisely the words I would use to describe Excision. You see, it started out as a short subject film and writer/director Richard Bates, Jr. decided to make it his first feature film. That was his first mistake. While I have never seen the short film that inspired this feature, I get the strong feeling that this was better served in that format.
Pauline (McCord) is a troubled teenage girl. She wants to be a surgeon, but we know in just a few minutes that she’s never going to get there. It’s a reach, to say the least. She has morbid thoughts and dreams which usually involve dead and bloody bodies used for some kind of sensual gratification on her part. It’s an obsession that rules her life. She even asks in a health class if you can get an STD from having sex with a dead person. She’s introverted and picks at the cold sores on her face. She apparently got these when her infected father revived her after a near-drowning. Yeah, it’s a pretty screwed up family all the way around. Her mother (Lords) is a born-again Christian who is always preaching good behavior to the point of enrolling her 18-year-old daughter in a Cotillion class. Grace (Winter), her sister, is the only one who appears to get her. She’s dying of cystic fibrosis, and her ailment is one of the elements driving Pauline to study medicine. Father Bob (Bart) just tries to get by while watching the train wreck of a family crumble around him. The film builds to an attempt at a sacrifice by Pauline to help cure her sister.
You can’t help but compare this to films like Heathers. The dark mood of Pauline is well acted by Anna Lynne McCord, but it gets old fairly quickly. The pacing meanders like a southern river in no particular hurry to get us anywhere. When we finally do arrive, I didn’t find the climax as surprising or shocking as I’m sure Bates intended or expected it to be. Pauline is very much like Harold in Harold And Maude. Her depressing thoughts and images are contagious, and you will leave the film with a sheer film of depression hanging over your head. That feeling, like the film itself, is something I quickly wanted to shake.
Bates does make interesting choices in his cast. As I already mentioned, Pauline is very well acted. There’s no question of believability. She will come across as a very scary young girl. Traci Lords plays completely against type here as the moral mother. Roger Bart doesn’t get near the range he had in Hostel Part II. Here he’s relegated to reacting to the mess around him. There are a few curious cameos in the film. Malcolm McDowall plays one of Pauline’s teachers as does Criminal Minds’ Matthew Gray Gubler. Ray Wise plays the school principal, and John Waters plays a priest who has been trying to offer psychological sessions to the troubled teen.
The movie has film festival written in each word of the script. This is going to appeal to the kind of audience that likes to think of themselves as superior to the mundane film watcher. They like to be on the “in” crowd who understand these kinds of movies even when they don’t really. The festival vibe is quite obvious in the various interludes the film provides. These are the dreams or visions of dead bodies as well as a couple of segments where Pauline is offering some bizarre prayers. The commercial value here is almost nil, and I can only recommend it if you’re one of the “in” crowd.
Excision is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30-35 mbps. The film looks fine for what it is. It’s a low-budget project, and that’s going to show in the production values. To Bates’ credit, he isn’t trying for anything visually stunning here. He keeps colors washed, and that helps a lot with the depressing mood. The image is sharp and clear. The print is flawless. Black levels are fair, but little of this is filmed in dark conditions.
The Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 is quite tame. Music is very laid back. You can hear the dialog, and there’s just nothing more to it.
There is a Commentary with Bates and McCord.
Only the commentary
One of the problems with this film has become almost epidemic in the industry. Horror films sell well, and there is this tendency to try to sell films that aren’t really horror films as horror films. The result is that you predispose your audience to hate the film. I get taken out of the experience when I watch what might have been a solid thriller or character study that was sold as a horror film. There’s nothing scary at all here beyond Pauline’s warped personality. The only real shock comes at the ending. It would have worked better as a dark comedy, except there’s no humor here. Bates takes himself way too seriously, but I can’t. It has a short running time, and the best thing I can say about Excision is that “it’s going to be over before you know it”.