Monday 23 September 2013

Excision (US 2012: Dir Richard Bates Jr)

When trashmeister John Waters appears in a cameo role in Excision, it's not exactly a surprise. For Richard Bates's first feature, with its quirky characters, suburban settings and dubious taste, is clearly so heavily influenced by the later works of Baltimore's finest, like Polyester or Serial Mom, that it feels like a Waters film by default. But Excision is far better than just a Waters homage.

Pauline is a high school student whose world view is decidedly warped. She's a social outcast with an incisive mind and an aspiration to be something in medicine, plus a penchant for fantasies combining sex, blood and evisceration. Her sister Grace is seriously ill with Cystic Fibrosis, and in need of a lung transplant, which places a massive strain on her parents. Pauline's father is a classically 'put upon' husband who remains largely bemused at his daughter's wayward behaviour. His wife attempts to hold the whole family together with a 1950s style approach to motherhood and housewifery (including wine at lunch). As the family becomes more and more dysfunctional, Pauline's studies of medical texts in the local library lead her to think that she may be able to aid her sister's health condition while finding favour with her mother, and gaining some all important practical medical experience.

The character of Pauline is beguiling and central to the succcess of Excision. She's smart, funny, deadpan and quite round the bend, but also very sexy. The casting against type here of AnnaLynne McCord is a stroke of genius. McCord, a glamorous star of TV shows like 90210, is presented with ratty hair and complex skin, but is a force of nature and it's difficult to take your eyes off her. Traci Lords, playing her mother Phyllis, is also outstanding, barely holding it together as she loses battle after battle with her rebellious daughter whom she neither understands nor seemingly loves.

Quite how Richard Bates has surrounded himself with such a cast on his first feature is beyond me, but Excision also features great walk on performances from Malcolm McDowell, Marlee Matlin and Ray Wise, all clearly enjoying themselves. The full feature has been developed from a short film of the same name made back in 2008 (so it's obviously taken a while to get this movie together), and Bates has taken the opportunity to add a lot more gallows humour in this version - there are some great laugh out loud one liners - and slicker production values which add class to what could otherwise be a quirky gore movie. 

Only when Excision takes its almost inevitable dark turn into pure horror towards the end does it unravel a bit, but for the most part this is a great, smart and funny film which is worth ninety minutes of anyone's time. Well, maybe not anyone's.

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