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Sundance Film Festival

During the Q&A after Excision's midnight screening at the Sundance Film Festival, director and writer Richard Bates, Jr. somewhat self-deprecatingly listed off all the things wiseacre film critics would likely say about his movie.

“It's Cronenberg meets John Hughes. It's Dario Argento's Heathers. Yeah, yeah, yeah.” But then he added, “it's all the things I would have wanted to see when I was discovering movies at the video store growing up.”

Same here, Mr. Bates. Same here.

Excision is a film very much from its main character's point of view. Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) is a troubled, but clearly intellectual girl. She scorns the bible-thumping ways of her mother (Traci Lords), but the story is framed with her numerous prayers to the God she doesn't believe exists. She doesn't just have the woes of being awkward and acne-ridden, but her younger, much more socially-integrated sister has Cystic Fibrosis. And she has frequent, odd . . . dreams.

The fantasy sequences in Excision do a good job of warning the audience about some of the depravity that's to come. Set in brightly lit, pastel-colored chambers, Pauline gratifies herself sexually as she envisions surgical procedures and The Holy Mountain-esque bisexual, sanguine lovemaking.

On paper, they are gross-out moments. On film, they are actually quite beautiful.

Pauline continues with her high school life, snarkily skiffing through its social structure, cooly above it all. Inside, of course, she yearns for nothing but a simple home life, and her increasing interest in becoming a surgeon appears more and more to be her window to salvation.

We're used to the paradigm of the high school girl wise beyond her years – the Daria model, if you will. What's so nice about Excision is how it pulls the rug out from under us. We're with Pauline until it slowly becomes evident that she is, to put it mildly, an unreliable narrator.

As Excision slices its way to its wonderful, inevitable conclusion there are a multitude of joys for the deviant film lover to enjoy. Apart from the sick and twisted fantasy sequences, there's an unending barrage of unexpected cameos. I'll only spoil one, since it's early, and that's John Waters, playing it straight, as Pauline's family Reverend and enforced counselor. (Pauline recognizes she maybe could get some use from a genuine medical psychiatrist, but Mom refuses for, so she says, financial reasons.)

It would be hard to overpraise young AnnaLynne McCord. Not being a regular viewer of 90210 (frankly, I kinda forgot that this series reboot had happened) I'd never seen this woman before, but let me tell you she is not to be ignored. She's one of these gifted actors that can ride in multiple directions at once. She's cocky, she's vulnerable, she's wise, she's fragile. And, if I may speak from the less noble part of my brain, she wins the Ally Sheedy award for completely nailing the “kinda gross/kinda hot” outsider high school girl look. It is a bold, brave performance that demands showing off her physicality in a none-too-flattering-light. There aren't a lot of female actors at her level of fame that have the sand to do this sort of thing, but the quality of the work makes it worth it.

For a first feature, I am absolutely over-the-moon in love with Excision. Looking at it outside of a festival discovery, I will admit that there are moments that waver from that of complete perfection. There probably are one too many awkward family dinner scenes and the ramp-up to the end happens a little quickly. Still, there are moments (like the arc of Pauline seducing one of her classmates) where everything is just cherry. More than anything else, it is a great, original character and Bates and McCord work in tandem to make Excision exceptionally watchable. I can't wait to see what these two tremendous talents decide to do next.

  1. About.com
  2. Entertainment
  3. World/Independent Film
  4. Independent Film
  5. Independent and World Films, Winter 2012
  6. Excision - A review of Richard Bates, Jr.'s Excision

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