Excision (2012) Movie Review – 31 Days of Halloween 2023
Alienated teen Pauline struggles with the pressures of fitting into high school, pleasing her mother and a burning desire to lose her virginity. With a grotesque curiosity for the darker side of life, Pauline is considered a social outcast by everyone around her. Enticed by flesh, she retreats into her own fantasies and hopes to become a great surgeon - that is, if she doesn't go insane first.
We are up to day three of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature and today we are taking a look at another slightly oddball horror. Starring AnnaLynne McCord, Excision is a psychological horror movie that is legitimately strange from beginning to end. I mean, it features John Waters playing a reverend. If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about this movie then I don’t know what will. Excision is weird but in the best kind of way.
I always start these articles by reminding you that if you are participating in an October horror movie a day marathon. Then you can check out our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween 2022 list for inspiration or even our A Tubi 31 Days of Halloween for a whole selection of movies available to watch completely free. You can also just follow along with the reviews we will be releasing every day. These reviews will be sticking to a shorter format as most of these movies are old and there isn’t a great deal I can say about them that hasn’t already been said.
Quirky Psychological Horror
Describing Excision as a horror is doing it some degree of injustice. It is really more than that. That’s not to say that horror movies can’t be provocative and experimental. It’s more that this movie straddles a number of genres and really doesn’t fit comfortably into any of them. Following the story of a rebellious teen girl fighting back against the extreme discipline of her highly conservative mother (played, in another moment of hilarious casting, by Traci Lords). Excision sees Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) going to horrifying extremes to win the approval of her family and save the life of her cystic fibrosis suffering younger sister Grace (Ariel Winter).
Excision is a mish-mash of a few different genres. We have a highly sexualised psychological thriller with horror elements. Social drama elements that revolve around family life and school. And a character study into the mind of a person who is suffering from a traumatic personality disorder and has become extremely disconnected from the world around her. The movie is somewhat reminiscent of films like American Beauty in how it takes the picturesque world of upper middle class social bliss and warps into something altogether more sinister.
A Familiar Setting
Excision sets its story against a backdrop of everyday middle America. It takes the typical conservative, American, nuclear family and points the finger at the hypocrisy and repression that can exist within this unit. Pauline is a troubled girl. A product of her mother’s overly eager parenting and her earned position as the “black sheep” of the family. Nothing she does is ever enough and she will never live up to the perfect image afforded to her little sister by their parents. As a result, she has become jaded and distant. She aspires to become a surgeon but lacks even the basic skills necessary to make it through high school.
She is anti-social, she has no friends, she consistently balks at authority and uses her classmates as pawns in her own sordid games. She frequently fantasizes about graphically violent sex and has an obsession with death. Excision is the story of thousands of different teenagers who feel like they will never be good enough. Only taken to violent extremes that the majority of people couldn’t imagine. This is a movie that manages to be both relatable for some while also being immediately repulsive in the actions of its main character. Something that is quite the accomplishment in horror movie making nowadays.
A Different Approach to Horror
It’s an extremely interesting approach and the setting that is so familiar to so many people makes it feel all the more real. Even when things really start to go crazy, a level of believability is maintained due to the setting and the characters. If you could tell the story of numerous violent teens from upper middle class families. It might look a lot like this. Pauline is the result of what happens when privilege meets depravity. Only turned up to 11.
None of the above really goes into just what a strange movie this is, though. Excision is weird, extremely weird. It has an acute sense of self awareness and a wicked sense of humour. Many of the actors have been cast against type and it works tremendously well. The typical conservative “two adults, two kids” setup is continually played for laughs. With everyone in the house taking turns to play victim to the overbearing household matriarch. Everyone in this movie is repressed, up tight and somewhat hypocritical. All things that are starkly in contrast to the extremely flawed but extremely honest Pauline.
Pauline is completely depraved and she fantasizes frequently. Her fantasies often revolve around graphic, violent and bloody, sex with numerous different people all at the same time. Her sexual awakening plays a central role in the movie and is often used for shock value. With her dreams and desires playing out in real time in a highly stylised sequence of scenes that feel very disparate from the rest of the film. It’s gory, bizarre and just a tiny bit discomforting but that is exactly what director Richard Bates Jr. is going for. Everything in Excision is suppose to unsettle you.
Pauline is supposed to be a character that is completely unrecognisable to most people. Dirty, unkempt, unreserved in the expressing of her opinions, regardless of how disgusting they are, and ignorant to authority. She is the antithesis of the clean and overly manicured world of domestic bliss presented by her mother and their family. She represents the dirty and stained underside of every perfect picture and she is fascinating because of this. What seems like a disconnect from society and the people around her eventually reveals itself to be delusion and complete disassociation. But the ride there is full of uncomfortable laughs and moments of wicked hilarity. Excision is weird in the best way.
Not Really Scary
As mentioned above, describing Excision as horror would be somewhat poorly fitting. At its core, the themes and events that take place are most definitely fitting of the horror genre. But it doesn’t really try to scare you. In fact, there isn’t a single real moment of fear in the movie or even a single solitary jump scare. It really falls more into that collection of movies that expose the horrific underside of perceived domestic bliss. Again, much like American Beauty does or even We Need To Talk About Kevin. Excision shares a lot in common with both of those films.
It is some of the visuals that fit more inside the horror genre than any other. There are certain scenes here that feature body horror elements and certain scenes that are bathed in gore. Excision attempts to use sex to shock, something which is quite common in horror. And it indulges in some of its more graphic imagery. It works quite well though some people will obviously be put off by this. Not everyone will class multiple human bodies writhing around on the floor completely naked while covered in blood as horror. But it doesn’t fit anywhere else particularly well, either. Which speaks to Excisions genre hopping nature.
This is one of those movies without a single weak performance. Everyone is fantastic here and that is largely due to the amazing all star cast. This movie features Traci Lords, Roger Bart, John Waters, Malcolm McDowell, Ray Wise and Ariel Winter among others. There is barely a single actor here without a packed IMDB history. Many of these actors play small roles so you won’t be seeing a great deal of Wise, McDowell and Waters but they bring something extra to the movie simply by featuring. I loved seeing Ray Wise making an appearance in another weird horror after the brilliant Dead End back in 2003 and John Waters playing against type as a reverend is a masterclass in casting.
It’s the performance of Traci Lords as Phyllis and AnnaLynne McCord as Pauline that really steal the show, though. Lords is sublime as the family matriarch and absolutely nails the repressed and hypocritical nature of her character. She is, again, cast against type. Especially given her rather colourful earlier “ahem” movie making history that I learned about when writing this review.
An Incredible Performance
AnnaLynne McCord doesn’t set a single foot wrong as Pauline. She commits entirely to a character that is, frankly, awful. She hits every note of sarcasm and completely looks the part of a sweaty, acne ridden, greasy teen. She reminded me of Kevin McCallister in Home Alone on a few occasions and I can’t put my finger on why. It’s a brilliant performance and entirely different from her usual “vixen” roles. What a shame McCord appears to be such a knob in real life with the constant attention seeking and tone deaf “Poem to a Baby Putin” shit she pulled on Twitter.
Direction is fantastic. Bates knows exactly what he wants from every shot and he gets it. Weaving a tapestry of strange, deliberately awkward and incredibly witty horror movie making that stands out for its uniqueness. The choice to film Excision in 2.35:1 was an inspired one given the number of person on person shots. Bates makes his characters front and centre of every scene and wastes very little real estate. It’s a great looking movie. Some of the cutaway segments are notable for just how bizarre they are. They feel worlds apart from the sanitised presentation of suburban America, as they should.
Final Thoughts and Score
This is another one of those movies that won’t be for everyone and that might be a continual theme in our 31 Days of Halloween feature. Excision is weird and skirts the line between horror and a bunch of other different genres. The horribly depraved sexual fantasies and blood lust of our main character play in stark contrast to the picture perfect world of upper middle class America. Excision does a brilliant job of exposing a darker side of suburban life.
It is more unsettling and disturbing than scary but it is also wickedly funny and captivating throughout. The all star cast provides fantastic performance after fantastic performance and the movie will make you laugh repeatedly. If you are looking for something completely different from the majority of horror, Excision might just be it.