Excision is the story of Pauline (AnnaLynn McCord), a troubled teen who believes herself to have either mental illness or a personality disorder. Living in a Christian household with a conservative homemaker mother, a distant and disinterested father and a sister with cystic fibrosis – she regularly escapes into fantasies of mutilation, bloodbaths and sexualised surgery in a private operating room with white walls and ocean-coloured tiles. Here she is beautiful, her acne and cold sores gone, her hair perfect; a very sexy and violent mad scientist; a woman, not a girl.
Pauline is determined to be a surgeon, first practicing on herself by piercing her nose and then on a dead bird she finds on the street. Her teachers and her preacher have little patience for her, disregarding much of her behaviour as lazy and immature. Her exchanges with these old men are attribute much of the film’s humour, as they are played by none other than Malcolm MacDowell , Ray Wise and John Waters. Traci Lords, notorious under-age adult film star turned actress also features as Pauline’s mother.
This was definitely the most fun I had at Sydney Film Festival this year. After the first viewing, director Richard Bates – a 26-year-old South Virginia native – gave a drunken explanation of just how he’d managed such a feat. It appears the whole film is a work of heart inspired by the directors with whom he was obsessed in high school i.e. Todd Solondz, David Cronenberg, Dario Argento and John Waters. An expansion on a previous short film by Bates, Excision cleverly combines surrealist gore with caricature.
The film is let down only by its sexism, which is part and parcel with body horror if not in very thoughtful hands. One scene, that will be considered the most disgusting by some (based on the groans in the two screenings I attended), involves menstrual blood. For Pauline, this scene is wonderful, and it should be nothing more than funny to its audience. As Bates expressed that it was based on his own experience, his intentions are unclear.