By: Heather Seebach

Richard Bates Jr.'s 2008 short film, Excision showed a troubled young girl obsessed with becoming a surgeon and struggling to impress her apathetic mother. With his 2012 feature of the same name, Bates takes that basic premise and expands upon it beautifully. His feature debut boasts striking visual style, great performances, and one wicked sense of humor. It will inevitably be compared to the works of similar filmmakers (Solondz, Jodorowsky) but Excision never feels recycled or derivative. It is more comedy than horror but it is sure to satisfy fans of both genres.

AnnaLynne McCord stars as Pauline, an 18-year old outsider with an overbearing mother, a spineless father, and a little sister suffering from Cystic Fibrosis. In many ways, Pauline is your average teenager - rebellious, full of angst and acne, and desperate to lose her virginity. But she is also crude and weird, much to the dismay of her family and classmates. Her only friend is her sister, Grace, who is slowly dying of CF. Pauline's nightly dreams are full of sex and blood, and during the day she has delusions of being a talented surgeon. Her mother (Traci Lords) tries to cover her daughter's bizarre behavior with church appointments and cotillion but Pauline has no desire to uphold this nuclear family ideal. She has a very different future outlined for herself.

Excision is often very intense but it never feels like shock-for-shock's-sake as is common with films this graphic. It is wickedly funny and will keep you belly-laughing, even when you feel guilty for doing so. Pauline is hilariously uncouth, and her repressed mother is equally funny. Yet underneath all this black humor is a growing dread about Pauline's mental condition that cannot be ignored. As her psychiatric problems go unattended, the girl turns to physical outlets for resolution. Bates effortlessly balances the humor with the extreme subject matter.

Pauline's obsession with sex and viscera feed Excision's most stunning scenes. In her fantasies, Pauline is a beautiful dominatrix presiding over her adoring subjects. Adorned with wigs and bold make-up, her dream counterpart bathes in blood and plays with entrails. These visually striking scenes are probably what it would look like if Herschell Gordon Lewis directed a Lady Gaga video. Needless to say, they are not for the faint of heart but they give the audience a glimpse into Pauline's twisted psyche. 

Blonde bombshell AnnaLynne McCord (Nip/Tuck, 90210) is probably the last actress anyone would expect to pull off a role like this but, after watching her, it is hard to imagine anyone else. Her transformation from beautiful to homely is the perhaps the most impressive actress make-under since Charlize Theron in Monster. McCord is completely committed to the role, making Pauline as ugly and vulgar as needed. 

The production value of Excision is impressive. It never gives the impression of being a low-budget indie flick. Adding to the big-budget feel is the impressive caliber of talent involved, including genre film veterans Traci Lords, Roger Bart, Ray Wise, Malcolm McDowell, and John Waters.

Richard Bates Jr. has already proven himself one hell of a filmmaker to watch, and fortunately his sophomore effort is currently underway. As a short film, Excision was good but it was seemingly based around a one-shot moment of irony. Bates has spun that short idea into a 90-minute coming-of-age tale about sex, gore, family, medicine, and even a dash of religion.

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