The Curmudgeon


Monday, April 01, 2013


Richard Bates, Jr. 2012

Pauline (Annalynne McCord) lives with her piously neurotic and domineering mother Phyllis, her paunchy and henpecked father and her sickly but beloved younger sister. As befits a teenager with medical ambitions, Pauline professes tentative disbelief in God while addressing Him as an equal and giving Him a piece of her mind on such matters as the emotional dynamics of family reunions in Heaven. Pauline's dreams take place in a blue-and-white-tiled surgico-erotic laboratory cum Sadean theatre cum fantasy bathroom, while her waking hours are blighted by her vapid classmates, irritating teachers and hapless family.

Some of Excision is quite disturbing, and some of it is quite hilarious; much of it is both. Pauline's sabotage of the cotillion class, Phyllis' encounter with a deaf tutor (Marlee Matlin), a whispered argument over how to spell the c-word, and a throwing-up scene worthy to stand with those in Heathers and Carnage are merely a handful among the highlights.

There is also some amusing mischief in the casting. The lugubrious local priest, to whom Phyllis sends Pauline in the hope of straightening her out ("you could at least have the decency to take me to an actual psychiatrist"), is portrayed by the cheerfully adolescent cinematic degenerate John Waters. The creepy school principal is played by a grinning Ray Wise, also known as the insane father of David Lynch's troubled teenager Laura Palmer. Pauline's mathematics teacher - the one person aside from her mother who can stand up to her - is played by Malcolm McDowell, a jaded grump forty years the wrong side of the creatively inspired teenage rebels in If... and A Clockwork Orange.

But the humour in Excision does not dilute the pain; as in the football jocks' funeral scene in Heathers, it merely allows the film to creep up on its audience. Splendidly acted by Traci Lords, Phyllis at first comes across as a comically sanctimonious gargoyle, and in truth she is never very likeable; but she does eventually emerge as an actual human being with real dilemmas and understandable reactions. This perspective, making clear Phyllis' pain and vulnerability and Pauline's need for her mother's love and admiration, is vital to the devastating horror of the ending.

Equally vital, Annalynne McCord puts in an outstanding turn as the heroine. Weirdly beautiful (facial blemishes, skinny figure and bad posture offset by brilliant eyes and teeth and a husky voice of paralysing articulacy) and almost certainly the most intelligent person in the film, Pauline variously spooks, intimidates and disgusts the mediocrities who surround her, though she doesn't always do it on purpose. As with her mother, Pauline's characterisation is far more subtle and complex than your everyday teen-movie misfit: one of Excision's cardinal virtues is its refusal to settle for easy answers in either its plot or its heroine's psyche. It is when Pauline accepts God, puts away childish things and starts trying to be helpful that she finally re-forms herself (as good girl, new-born and mad scientist), and thereby becomes truly dangerous.


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