Stars: AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Ariel Winter, Roger Bart, Malcolm McDowell, John Waters, Jeremy Sumpter and Marlee Matlin.
Writer/Director: Richard Bates Jr
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL Screenings - Sun 10 Jun 9.00pm; Tues 12 Jun 8.30pm.
To hear the deliberately droll Richard Bates Jr talk down the deeper aspects of Excision, his directorial debut, at a Sydney Film Festival post-screening Q&A, one may deduce that this extraordinary work was all a bit of a lark for him. When, in fact, nothing could nor should be considered further from the truth; his coming-of-age horror opus is positively dripping with slyly intellectual observations of the deeply-rooted link between a girls blossoming womanhood and the urges and rages such changes carry with them.
The opening shot is a clear indication of what we can expect from Excision – sex and violence and the yin and yang that those diametrically opposed halves represent within a young woman’s psyche. It is a dream sequence, in which two versions of our anti-heroine Pauline (Annalyne McCord) stare each other down; one is in the grip of sexual fulfilment, while the other is spewing blood and close to death.
Pauline is the greasy-haired, pimply geek archetype that is usually the butt of schoolyard jokes, both in the movies and real life. But McCord’s Pauline is a portrait of a teenager captured at a time when she is learning to embrace her uniqueness (a quick wit, sexual curiosity, anti-parental control). She brazenly offers herself to the school stud Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) for her first time; she rails against her tightly-wound mom Phyliss (Traci Lords) while learning to appreciate, even love, her sweet younger sister Grace (Ariel Winter), who is suffering from cystic fibrosis.
Pauline’s dream grow darker and detailed, each more violent than the last. They are the visions of an alienated but active mind, one struggling to reconcile between her place in the world and the measures she is willing to take to make things right.
The men in the film are grossly ineffectual. Two sexually-active cheerleaders joke about Adam’s smallness and inability to become aroused, even that perhaps he might be gay; his final insult is an indescribable moment involving menstruation and oral sex. Pauline’s father Bob (Roger Bart) is a shell of a man, beaten down by Lord’s shrill suburban-harpie, whilst the high-school authority figures are Malcolm McDowell as a hollow, ambivalent schoolroom lifer and Ray Wise as a slightly deranged principal.
Excision is a film in metaphoric overload, where Pauline’s every waking moment is consumed by images and thoughts pertaining to sex, blood and conflict. McCord, a mens-mag favourite whose resume to date gave no indication she was capable of crafting such a wondrously disturbed character, conveys the inner-collision of Pauline’s sympathetic reality and psychotic extremes with equal measure profundity and black, black humour. Her final on-screen moments are nightmarishly impactful.
The young director’s trope dissection is cut entirely from the chick flick/teen outcast cloth, but without the airs and graces of the kind that the late John Hughes might have employed; had David Cronenberg and Dario Argento co-directed Sixteen Candles it might have looked a bit like Excision. But Bates’ piercing originality and keen eye for framing and ear for dialogue sets it own precedents, standing tall on the stooped shoulders of Pauline and her teen-dream bloodlust.