Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) is a misfit teenager who looks different, acts differently and appears to have no desire to get along with anyone in her twisted world.

She lives in a pretty area of American suburbia with her strict mother Phyllis (Traci Lords), browbeaten father Bob (Roger Bart) and younger sister Grace (Ariel Winter). Their home is a typically dysfunctional one, save for the fact that Grace’s illness – she suffers from cystic fibrosis – casts a shadow over their mundane lives.

Phyllis is constantly bickering at Pauline, either having a go at her table manners or appearance, or turning up at school to interfere in her ailing education. In fairness, Pauline is as unsightly as she is unfriendly, a socially inept loner who would benefit from such interventions.

Largely ostracised by the other girls in her school, Pauline’s attempts to befriend the pretty young thing who lives opposite her are also cruelly dismissed.

Fortunately Pauline has frequent escape from such harassment in the form of her dreams of becoming a surgeon. In bed at night, these dreams correlate sex and death in a manner which leave her breathless afterwards. The imagery grows more surreal as the film progresses (our heroine bathing in blood; dozens of naked torsos strewn in a huge line of clinical flesh, etc), while Pauline’s grasp on reality becomes more and more tenuous.

Along the way, folk such as the local priest (John Waters) and schoolteacher Mr Cooper (Malcolm McDowell) try to help steer Pauline in the right direction. But she’s more interested in making sense of her increasingly violent dreams, arriving on the cusp of her growth into womanhood and jading her notions of losing her virginity to school hunk Adam (Jeremy Sumpter). "Can you contract an STD from having sex with a dead person?" is a typical question for Pauline to ask her biology teacher in class …

As events continue though, it transpires that deep down Pauline just wants to be accepted. As fractured as her mind may be and as compelling as the disturbing visions of her sleeping hours are becoming to her, she yearns to achieve something that will make her ever-critical mother proud. Like grow to be the surgeon who can cure Grace’s condition, for example …

Imagine Alan Ball being commissioned to write a script for a film pitched as "HEATHERS meets TEETH". Then imagine it being given to Lucky McKee to direct, with help during the dream sequences from David Cronenberg. Call it a lazy analogy if you must, but that’s the best way I can sum up EXCISION.

The family meal scenes, of which there are several, are as discomfiting as they are deliberately banal. They capture the same casual behind-closed-doors Hell as witnessed in AMERICAN BEAUTY (penned by the aforementioned Ball). As writer-director Richard Bates Jr puts it in the disc’s commentary track, EXCISION is primarily about the repressed emotions of "people in suburban environments".

Bates Jr originally made this as a short film in 2008 with Tessa Ferrer in the role of Pauline. It played well at genre festivals across the world, leading the aspiring filmmaker to relocate to Los Angeles in a bid to finance a feature version of his vision.

It took some time coming to fruition, but when it finally did, EXCISION – the film – replaced Ferrer with McCord. An unlikely choice perhaps, the young hottie being best known for roles in TV fare such as "Nip/Tuck" and "90210". But McCord is fantastic. Her physical appearance is almost unrecognisable as her: all greasy matted hair, blemished pale skin and sunken dead eyes. And the foul-mouthed, question-everything attitude she spits out in numerous scenes is pulled off with unexpected authenticity. However, it’s the quieter moments – heart-to-hearts with her mother; the waking afterglow of her orgiastic dreams and the momentary confusion she encounters in these moments – where McCord shines her brightest.

Bart is good in his understated role as the sheepish father. Lords is a revelation as the mother, treading that fine line between tyranny and genuine concern to truly convince as a matriarch who doesn’t really know how to show her love best. She, like McCord, is cast against type: both actresses clearly revel in the opportunity.

Solid support comes from the rest of the predominantly young cast, while extended cameos from Waters, McDowell and Ray Wise (as the school principal) raise the cult curio ante.

Biting dialogue, satirical humour, a hip indie soundtrack and stunning stylised cinematography further bolster EXCISION’s cool credentials. But is it all a little too consciously so? Perhaps it is, as the offbeat (and sometimes bloody) dream images intersperse with vignette-style plot advancements to create an episodic succession of set-pieces which don’t allow for much heart and soul to sneak through.

In fact, as technically impressive and amusingly bizarre as much of the action is, it’s only the powerful finale that truly strikes an emotional chord. And, without giving too much away, that’s largely down to superb performances.

Monster Pictures are releasing EXCISION onto UK DVD and blu-ray. The blu-ray variant was made available for review.

It presents the film, uncut, in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The 16x9 1080p transfer – encoded as an MPEG4-AVC file - is an amazingly sharp, precise and vivid proposition. The blood flows crimson red across the screen when required, while little details such as the creases in McDowell’s ancient face are intricately detailed in this superb transfer. A smooth texture on medium shots works well alongside alarming depth during wider shots and awesome clarity elsewhere.

English audio comes in a healthy 5.1 Master HD mix, offering a fair balance of channels and strong musical representation. Some of the secondary dialogue comes over a tad quiet, but overall this is an even offering. Burned-in subtitles are provided for the rare moments where one of Pauline’s teachers speaks in sign language.

The disc opens to a static main menu page. From there, a pop-up scene-selection menu allows access to the film via 18 chapters.

Extras begin with an excellent commentary track from Bates Jr and McCord. In what is a highly naturalistic and light conversation, they proffer a vast amount of anecdotal information which is infused with authentic passion from the offset.

Bates Jr tells of how the film took 5 years to get made, and how the motivation behind it was to make "a love letter to the movies that got me through High School". Meanwhile the story of how McCord impressed the director in her audition is amazing; Bates Jr later trumps that by recanting the trauma of his first sexual experience – going down on a girl while she was on her period (a scenario which is repeated in his film).

Replete with profanities galore and frequent laughter, this is a sincere and engaging commentary track which manages to impress even further with references to Jodorowksy, herpes passed on by parents, failed abortions and whether wanking in a hot tub could impregnate your sister along the way.

The only other bonus feature on offer is the film’s original 2-minute trailer, presented in a clean 16x9 transfer.

Sadly we don’t get the original short film. It would’ve been a great addition to the disc – alas, it’s not here.

EXCISION is an interesting film, surely destined for cult status in years to come. It has an intriguing cast, original ideas and a slightly surreal way of going about them. It’s not entirely successful – it’s all a little episodic and too self-consciously quirky for its own good – but it’s definitely worth a look. Bates Jr shows massive potential, while Lords and McCord are excellent.

Also available on DVD.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Monster Pictures
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review