If Blood and Love Taste So Sweet
Excision - 2012
Written & Directed by Richard Bates Jr.
Excuse me, before I get going on the other aspects of the movie, I need to recognize one thing in particular. Excision is a masterpiece of casting achievement. Just brilliant. We have former teenage porn star Traci Lords playing the prudish and religious controlling mother. Ray Wise, perhaps best known as Laura Palmer's father (and killer) from Twin Peaks plays the high school principal disinterested in hearing about psychological excuses for behavior. Malcolm McDowell, who came to prominence as the extreme teenage delinquent in A Clockwork Orange plays a teacher who doesn't suffer troublemakers. The one that will really grab your attention is John Waters of... being John Waters ...as a pastor, but I think the one I love the most is Marlee Matlin as a school counselor... who can't hear. Yeah, that's how dark the humor is here. Now where was I? Oh yes...
Holy crap! What did I just see!?
Excision is a restrained examination of one girl's journey from "disturbed" to "Disturbed." I'm sure it won't fulfill all viewers' expectations of what constitutes a "horror movie," but it's undeniably horrific, while at the same time imbued with a sense of humor so black and morbid that The Joker would stand up and applaud at the end.
Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) is not your normal high school student. That much is evident from the very first scene, in which she dreams of two selves; one erupting in blood and agony, and the other writhing in erotic delight over the sight. Clearly not right. She's an acne-and-cold-sore-pocked outcast at school, where her socially inept behavior and emotional detachment mark her as strange; as other. It's natural that we empathize with her, although she continually reminds us that her reasoning is not well-adjusted.
The early incident that establishes her character is her decision to lose her virginity to one of the popular boys -- or more specifically, the boyfriend of the popular girl whom Pauline despises. She matter-of-factly tells him what she wants and gives him number. Later, she inappropriately tells her sister of her intentions, and that she wants to be on her period when it happens. Boys being stupid and incapable of turning down free nookie, he accepts. Pauline directs the event with clinical detachment. She has timed it correctly and experiences visions of blood and passion far more glamorous than the reality. When she directs him downtown, he discovers just what's up and is appalled. Dropping her off at home, he can't get away fast enough. Later, rather than feeling shame, Pauline uses the event to humiliate both the popular boy and his popular girlfriend
Pauline's conflicts with others intensify, and most of the time, these appear, well, not necessarily reasonable, but understandable as teen behavior and film behavior. She fights with her mother about church, school, the cotillion into which she's been forced, and really pretty much everything. This doesn't seem SO strange to us until it is, perhaps, too late. When the popular girls vandalize her house, Pauline attacks her nemesis, laying her out and bloodying her nose. We want to take the side of the underdog, so we're much less offended by this counterstrike than her parents and the principal who expels her. Maybe we shouldn't be so hasty.
Excision is one of the more chilling and, I feel, credible cinematic examinations of the loss of sanity that I've ever seen. It happens slowly, and it doesn't seem particularly crazy until it crosses the line in an irretrievable way. Pauline is incredibly insightful and strikes as as the only one who really gets it in her world, and while the delusional dreams are startling, their influence on her reality is filtered through restraint. Even when she "loses it," she does a very wrong thing for a very right reason, but that doesn't make it a sanely arrive-upon conclusion.
It's a slow burn that suddenly slips into a living nightmare, only it's less sudden than it seems. Like a frog in boiling water, the doom is ever present but easily overlooked. It seems purposeful that so many of the actors were cast against type. More than merely being hilarious stunt castings, they reflect the conflict and inherent madness of the world that both ushers Pauline into her own world of madness, and fails to recognize it for what it is. The message here is not to treat the mentally ill as weirdos, though that's how they might present to us, or pariahs, but to get the real professional help.
I expected something in the ballpark of American Mary and/or May from Excision, but what I found was something entirely itself, and in many ways much more honest. A true nightmare.