Film Review: Excision (2012)

I’m enjoying a mini break, which means: more time to indulge in popular culture. I’ve spent the first days of my holiday reading H.P Lovecraft (more on that later) and watching a little film that’s been on my wish list for a while. It’s called Excision (watch the trailer here) and while it’s marketed as horror, I quickly discovered that it’s much more than that.

The blurb: Pauline, a very awkward teenage girl, is a rather revolting character with a good sense of humour. She constantly clashes with her Christian mother and dominant teachers (so far, the story seems pretty normal). However, Pauline has a rather unhealthy obsession with the human body and her most cherished dream is becoming a surgeon. The film frequently features her disturbing and increasingly gory visions which include necrophilia, abortion and blood. Lots of it. Her sister Gracie is the only person she can truly relate to. Gracie suffers from cystic fibrosis and needs a lung transplant. Pauline, in an attempt to save her sister an win the approval of her mother, decides to perform the operation herself. What could possibly go wrong?

Quite a lot, obviously. I initially decided to watch this film because of the cast, which includes Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) as a sadistic teacher and Traci Lords (yes, the porn actress) as Pauline’s mother. Everyone performs surprisingly well, but I was particularly impressed by AnnaLynne McCord who plays Pauline. I was disappointed by the recent Carrie remake as I found the portrayal of the main character rather unrealistic. Bullied girls simply don’t have a gorgeous haircut and a fair complexion. McCord does a great job at portraying a genuinely nerdy girl, making the story realistic despite its cartoony elements. For Pauline is a funny character with guts (no pun intended) who appears to be happy with her underdog position. I sympathized with her. She’s rather cool. Until we get to the ending, that is.

Those who still have to watch the film may want to skip the rest of this post as it contains a massive SPOILER. 

Of course Pauline’s plan goes awry. The film does not provide conclusive evidence but it’s very likely that Gracie dies (she is shown with blood dripping out of her mouth, her eyes completely void). And while this ending is to be expected, it still comes as a surprise. We view the ending through the eyes of Pauline’s mother after she discovers the terrible scene. All of a sudden, the perspective changes. We move away from Pauline, her sense of humour, and her hatred towards her mother. Instead we view Pauline through her mother’s eyes and feel the fear she must feel.

It took me a lot of thinking to find out why this switch is so disturbing. One reason is that Pauline’s dream and its practical incarnation are so different. Pauline envisions herself as a gorgeous blonde surgeon, surrounded by admirers. In reality she is bald (she shaves her head before operating, presumably for hygienic reasons), wears an oversized lab coat and performs the operation in her father’s garage. The scene is less ER, more Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Secondly, because we’re made to identify with Pauline’s mother we are forced to realize that things have gone horribly wrong. Pauline is driven by a desire to get things right and to be loved. The same goes for her mother, who briefly mentions that she never wanted to replicate the harsh conditions she grew up in. The end of the film makes her realize that she has failed: she has created a monster. Excision shows what happens when good intentions lead to terrible results, making its message complex and more interesting than the ones most horror films offer.

In fact, I hesitate to call the film horror. Sure, it contains horror elements and is certainly not for the squeamish. Avoid this film if you can’t stand a bit of gore and if you don’t like films that freak you out. But for me this is more about the horrors that lurk beneath the perfect suburb in which Pauline grows up. Horror is revealed to be surprisingly ordinary. It is not a danger coming from outside. Instead, it grows right in the middle of the American Dream.

No wonder I couldn’t sleep after watching it.

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