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Excision | Review

A darkly comic horror gem.

Richard Bates Jr. is yet another filmmaker that expanded his first short film to make his feature film debut of the same name, Excision. Unlike some other unsuccessful ventures in 2012’s Midnight Premieres lineup at Sundance, Bates’ film is an exceptional feature debut, a perfect balance of disturbing dark humor mining the depths of depraved female sexuality and appropriately serious horror. While this isn’t as exceptional a debut as Lucky McKee’s May (2002), it certainly shares one deliriously memorable female lead performance, and he may be one of the best directors to watch out for in the horror genre.

Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) is an awkward and unkempt teenager about to graduate high school. Her tangled mane of hair and out-of-control eyebrows places her in an unsavory light with her peers, except that Pauline is so wrapped up in her own world, she could care less what everyone else thinks of her. Obsessed with the idea that she would make an excellent surgeon, Pauline indiscriminately experiments on the corpses of dead animals. And from her rampantly sexual dreams, we’re able to see that Pauline is turned on by blood and sex with dead or maimed things. Meanwhile, her emotionally estranged parents (Roger Bart and Traci Lords) are undecided about what to do with their strange daughter, distracted as they are by their superstar younger daughter’s cystic fibrosis. Pauline’s mother isn’t able to accept Pauline as she is, forcing her to go to therapy sessions with the local reverend (John Waters) and join Cotillion even though she’s just a tad too old for such an occasion. Between deciding she needs to lose her virginity and exacting physical violence against female enemies at school, Pauline decides that she must take it upon herself to perform her sister’s lung transplant, as she’s the best qualified.

Bates Jr. somehow managed to assemble an astounding supporting cast of colorful film icons, including a delightful Lords, a hilarious Waters, Malcolm McDowell as a high school teacher, Marlee Matlin as the Cotillion instructor, and Ray Wise as the principal. But best of all, Excision has a delightfully depraved center with a knockout performance from AnnaLynne McCord as the disturbed Pauline. There’s not been this much use of menstrual blood in teenage horror since Carrie (1976) and Pauline’s dreams are surprisingly effective in the intention to shock, including an exploding baby fetus and plenty of blood drenched sexual acts. Boasting a superbly written script by Bates,’ Excision is a hilarious, character driven flick, and one that manages to climax with an effective chilly final shot.

Reviewed on January 21 at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival – MIDNIGHT Programme.

81 Mins.

Rating 4 stars

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Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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