Blu-ray Review: AnnaLynne McCord Dazzles in Darkly Amusing ‘Excision’
CHICAGO – AnnaLynne McCord is the sort of actress whose face begs to be photographed. The camera can remain on her for an indefinite amount of time and manage to capture endless fascinating nuances. As someone who has never watched an episode of the rebooted “90210” series, I hadn’t seen McCord in anything until Richard Bates Jr.’s “Excision.” Now I consider myself a fan.
In this gleefully deranged satire on the hellish confusion of adolescence, McCord plays Pauline, a sardonic teen who basks in the narcissistic splendor of her alienation. Her greasy hair and pockmarked face suggest that she never bothers to shower or bathe, though McCord’s naturally striking eyes and cheekbones still manage to make her character effortlessly watchable. When Pauline dreams about performing gruesome surgeries while making love to corpses (yep, this movie is out there), McCord casts off her ugly makeup and reveals herself to be a knockout beauty, even amidst the blood and guts.
Blu-ray Rating: 3.5/5.0
A lesser film would’ve simply turned Pauline into a Burtonesque goth underdog trapped in a pastel suburbia obsessed with football and cotillions. Yet even the most clichéd stereotypes in Bates’s film turn out to have unexpected depth. Pauline sure is a likable antihero, but she is also truly insane, and her warped sense of self threatens to bring about certain disaster. Pauline’s mother, Phyllis (a startlingly effective Traci Lords) may come off as an ultra-critical, micromanaging monster (which she is), but she’s also a damaged woman in her own right who truly yearns to connect with her daughter, but is utterly incapable of finding the right words. Her obscene lack of tact has been sadly inherited by her daughter, as unforgettably proven in the cotillion scene when Pauline strikes up a potentially touching conversation with a lonely spectacle-clad girl, only to ruin it with the worst possible line. Early on, Pauline’s sister, Grace (Ariel Winter of “Modern Family”) appears to be the sort of pint-sized terror who sucks up to her smothering mother, yet she also loves her sister and passionately defends her when confronted by neighborhood bullies. As for Pauline’s dad, Bob (Roger Bart), he’s pretty much an emasculated sadsack who freely allows his wife to rule the roost even as she tirelessly berates him. Yet even his greatest mistake (directly based on an act committed by Bates’s own father) has an undercurrent of oddly touching poignance. None of these characters can fit within an easily definable box, and that is the film’s chief strength.
Excision was released on Blu-ray and DVD on October 16th, 2012.
Photo credit: Anchor Bay Entertainment
What holds the viewer’s attention throughout is its mesmerizing central performance from McCord, who’s so boldly funny and fearlessly outrageous that it’s impossible to predict what she’ll do next. When she asks popular jock Adam (Jeremy Sumpter of “Friday Night Lights”) to devirginize her, she talks to him as if he’s a mere job applicant. After they’ve done the deed, Pauline’s interaction with Adam’s bitchy girlfriend is, as they say, “nearly worth the price of admission.” Once the film reaches its inevitable blood-soaked conclusion in the final act, the plot twists are so over-the-top that they threaten to derail the film altogether. A passel of cameos from cult icons such as Malcolm McDowell and Ray Wise (Leland Palmer on “Twin Peaks”!) are distractions, though it is fun to see Marlee Matlin maintain her grace and charm in the midst of this horror show (John Waters is used only as a sight gag). It’s really the work of McCord and Lords that dramatically anchors this film even as plausibility flies clear off the rails. This is Bates’s only feature filmmaking credit (alongside his original short of “Excision”), and he sure has a refreshing eye for the unusual. Though the full vision of his intended social commentary doesn’t quite resonate, his film lingers in the mind nonetheless.
“Excision” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio), accompanied by English and Spanish subtitles and includes a supremely enjoyable audio commentary track with McCord and Bates, who reminisce about the various obstacles they tackled in order to bring the film to the screen. When their production designer left the project, McCord teamed up with Bates and cinematographer Itay Gross to handle the duties. If indie filmmaking teaches one anything at all, it is the value of group work.