Saturday, February 2, 2013

Women in Horror: Excision

** This review contains spoilers. **

Pauline is a mentally disturbed social outcast, prone to odd outbursts and delusions. Her fascination of blood and viscera crosses the borders fetish and obsession and she dreams about being a great surgeon one day. The other kids at school just think she's really weird and either make fun of her or simply ignore her. Her parents are in denial about her mental health and skimp on treatment by taking her to a local priest instead of a therapist, which isn't really doing any good. Her little sister Grace, whom she loves dearly, has cystic fibrosis and is rapidly getting worse. Pauline has been working on her own solution to her sister's problem that will shock everyone.

Excision is an unexpected movie. I figured it would be full of gore and blood (which it does have), but not a thoughtful character study of a dysfuctional family with a shocking ending. The family dynamic is utterly believable with realistic characters. There's Pauline, the black sheep of the family. Although not a good student by any stretch of the imagination, she dreams of being a surgeon. Her actual dreams have very little to do with surgery and a lot to do with gallons of blood, organs, and half naked people. They give great insight into her growing madness and twisted sense of sexuality. Her behavior is a little weirder and more abrasive than social outcasts usually are in film, but I felt it was a more authentic portrayal of someone with an undiagnosed mental illness. She isn't afraid to push people's buttons tell people her blunt opinion whether they want to hear it or not. Her bluntness and her periodic conversations with God are actually pretty funny and lighten the mood of an otherwise very dark film. On some level, she knows she has a problem and even tries to get the principal of her school to send her to a psychiatrist, which he laughs off. This makes the ending all the more tragic. AnnaLynne McCord does a phenomenal job of changing her entire appearance, posture, and speech patterns to play Pauline.

Grace carries a lot of baggage for a teenage girl. She has cystic fibrosis and the condition drastically worsens to the point where she will have to risk a lung transplant to survive. One of her friends with the same condition died, bringing her own mortality into the forefront of her mind. Other than that, she's a normal girl with concerns about boys, clothes, and school. Her mother considers her to be the perfect daughter because her interests coincide with those she approves of and her attitude and comportment are normal. Grace is a sweet girl who brings out the good in everyone. Pauline would do anything to protect her sister even though she may go about it the wrong way. Ariel Winter captures the balance of naivete and cynicism that Grace feels.

Pauline's parents, Phyllis and Bob, are fairly normal. Phyllis is very Christian and proper and wants her daughters to emulate her. Her pursuit of the perfect family is hindered by the reality of her daughters' sicknesses. To counteract reality, she attempts to force Pauline to be normal by yelling and berating her every day. However, she's not an evil person and really does love Pauline. Traci Lords conveys the frustrated mother's overbearing nature and concern for Pauline very well. Bob is complacent and only steps in when Phyllis falls apart. Both of them try to basically sweep Pauline under the rug without addressing any of her problems for a couple of reasons. One is shame. Our society still has a pretty significant stigma on mental illness, causing people like Phyllis, to act as if her daughter doesn't have any problems for the sake of appearing to have a perfect family. The second one is the expense. The family seemed pretty well off, but if insurance doesn't cover it, therapy and psychiatric drugs can very expensive and needed over long periods of time. This aspect is particularly relevant today since the Newtown shooting put American mental health services (or lack thereof) into focus.

**Spoilers** The ending of Excision is one of the most powerful and heartbreaking. Pauline, at the height of her delusions, operates on Grace in their garage, swapping her lungs for another girl's. When Phyllis finds them and Pauline is glowing with happiness that the surgery went well, I just lost it and cried. Pauline just wanted to help her sister and felt she could do this for Grace and for her family. Then realization sets in and Pauline starts to cry. The scene, although obviously bloody, is in stark contrast with the dream sequences and the tragic result of trying to bring those dreams into reality.

Excision is a complex film that features some great performances and compelling characters. There is admittedly not a whole lot of plot, but it gives more emphasis and care to the character building. This would really be the only thing that was wrong with the film. The film is powerful and honest and I highly recommend it.

My rating: 8/10 fishmuffins

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