“Excision” is a movie that defies categorization. It’s being marketed as a horror film, which, while that label is not entirely accurate, is understandable because the film contains a level of squishy gore and bodily fluids that isn’t typically seen outside of genre affairs. Some might argue that it’s more of a comedy. While it is true that mainstream comedies of the last few years have been incrementally edging up against the line between funny and disgusting, “Excision” gleefully charges past that line and dares the audience to laugh or blow chunks. If “Excision” is indeed a comedy, it’s closest to the queasy, laugh-or-cry, pitch black comedy of a Todd Solandz film, the kind that leaves you wanting to take a shower when the movie’s over. “Excision” is what it is. It’s gross. It’s funny. It’s cringe-inducing. It’s sad. It’s nasty. And beneath all that, it’s a surprisingly empathetic portrait of a delusional and often repulsive teenage girl.
The schizophrenic nature of “Excision” is baked into the movie even at the fundamental level of casting. Half of the cast is drawn from popular network sitcoms and soaps beloved by the moms and tweens of middle America while the other half is made up of actors who are more likely to be signing autographs two booths down from Gunnar Hansen. To stir the pot even more, the two groups are each playing against type. This is a movie where John Waters shows up as a clean-cut minister and the sexy bad girl from 90210 plays an greasy-haired, pimply nerd. Pauline, the nerd in question (played by a heavily grimed-up AnnaLynne McCord) aspires to someday become a surgeon and refuses to let her lack of social skills, book smarts or basic personal hygiene interfere with her dreams. Her uptight mother, played by Traci Lords in a revelatory performance, just wants her to fit in, going so far as to enroll her in a cotillion class despite the fact that she is a few years too old for it. Pauline’s only real friend is her younger sister Grace who suffers from ever-worsening Cystic Fibrosis.
Pauline’s awakening sexuality is expressed through stylish, bloody dream sequences that punctuate the film and account for most of its horror elements. She decides that she wants to lose her virginity and, with the bold overconfidence that belongs to only the truly socially inept, she chooses a boy from school to be her first, never mind the fact that he’s from the popular crowd or that he has a girlfriend. When she first propositions the kid he laughs it off, but, being a teenage boy and therefore physically incapable of turning down any possibility of sexual contact, he later changes his mind. What he doesn’t realize is that Pauline’s obsession with blood has (ahem) had some influence upon the particular time of the month she has chosen for her first sexual experience. Yep.
Soon Pauline is letting her conquest be known to the whole school (mostly by way of wondering out loud whether she has any STDs) and the popular kids strike back against her in the form of a prank. From there things escalate until the pressures of her mom’s desires, her classmates’ disdain and her sister’s disease eventually cause Pauline to become increasingly unhinged. The last ten minutes or so are where the film descends into pure horror territory. The ending is almost the opposite of a twist – it’s pretty easy to put the pieces together early in the movie - but it’s satisfying nonetheless, appropriately wrapping things up in a way that is equal parts over-the-top, lurid goofiness and actual soul-crushing horror.
If you want to play the movie pitch game, “Excision” is “Carrie” meets “Napoleon Dynamite” with a healthy dash of David Cronenberg-style body horror. It’s a quirky domestic comedy that takes a sharp left turn into crazytown at the end. It’s definitive proof that Traci Lords is a actually a surprisingly good actress. Whatever “Excision” might be, it’s an undeniably weird little flick that hopefully can find an audience weird enough to appreciate it.