A disturbed and deeply delusional suburban horror, Richard Bates Jr.’s directorial debut Excision (2012) is a fine example of genre filmmaking that’s positively brooding with tongue-in-cheek satire and vulgar, macabre imagery. Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord, in a surprisingly ‘dressed down’ performance) is a troubled young girl with a morbid fascination with surgical procedures and medicine. Life at home is fraught with conflict, with Pauline’s overbearing mother Phyllis (played by infamous porn actress Traci Lords) creating an oppressive domestic atmosphere of bourgeois values and rigid decorous behaviour.
However, Pauline’s vivid blood-doused dreams of surreal surgical operations lead her to believe she has a calling in life – to save her terminally ill sister and in doing so, finally win the approval of her demanding mother. At just over 80 minutes, Excision is a film that never overstays its welcome, zipping along with a frantic sense of urgency. Bates Jr. constantly attacks his viewer through a framed narrative of horrifying existential cut-scenes, which haphazardly collide with the film’s more jovial narrative and vivacious, colloquial dialogue. Every scene seems punctuated by a distinct absence of inhibition and an overpowering sense of moxie.
As Pauline’s surgical curiosity expands beyond road-kill, Excision reaches its pinnacle of cringe-worthy domestic discomfort and transports us into a squeamish series of hormonally-charged set-pieces, which effectively play on this palpable sense of unease. Indeed, Bates Jr.’s film is a blood-stained, horror-literate celebration of the genre, shaped by a residential upbringing and a cultural fascination with domestic dramas and the awkward transition through adolescence to adulthood.
Sadly, in attempting to merge the picket fence social commentary of David Lynch and the body horror of David Cronenberg, Bates has created a film that fails to effectively gel its duel obsessions into a coherent whole. Further hampered by a reliance on cameos from cult luminaries such as Malcolm McDowell and John Waters (although a campy performance from Twin Peak’s Ray Wise does result in much hilarity), Bates’ film often feels like its attempting to cram too much into such a tightly woven script. However, the striking performance by McCord more than keeps Excision on track.
Clothed in ill-fitting attire and framed by her lank greasy hair, McCord’s unkempt appearance is the antithesis of her previous acting roles, with her latest project the antithesis of many of the found ootage snorefests currently doing the rounds. Bold, confident and incredible vivid, Bates Jr.’s Excision is a must-see for anyone who enjoys their horror films with a liberal seasoning of humour and a demented desire to repulse and entertain in equal measure.