Sundance Dispatch #10: Gory Girls Gone Wild

Sundance Dispatch #10: Gory Girls Gone Wild

Jan 24, 2012

Black Rock

These two Sundance Midnight screenings piqued my interest, and while one was entertaining enough to make it worth a trek through the snow late at night (and getting heckled by people driving by!), the other left me needing my smelling salts and a little nap. Guess which is which?

Black Rock

Director and costar Katie Aselton is known for her biting wit and indie film resumé, but this midnight movie takes her into very different territory. Abby (Aselton), Lou (Lake Bell), and Sarah (Kate Bosworth) have a long history together, but Lou and Abby had a huge fight over a guy and haven't talked for years. Sarah, who has the whiff of a chipper cruise director, tricks them into meeting for a weekend on Black Rock, an island they frequented as young girls.

Abby and Lou's longstanding beef takes the backseat when they run into three guys on the small wooded island who are hunting. Yup, if you're hearing dueling banjos right about now, you'd be on the right track. A friendly co-ed campfire goes horribly awry, and soon the three friends have to find a safe haven to hide in from those homicidal, heavily armed goons.

The three actresses have a great rapport, which is probably necessary when you spend a few weeks running around the woods covered in mud and blood together. The scenes with them just hanging out are almost more enjoyable than when the action ramps up, especially since the three guys are really broadly written and even a little silly. The script by Aselton's husband Mark Duplass is fairly straightforward and lacks a certain tension, but the three women carry the action forward in a really satisfying way, especially as their external problems fall away and survival means sticking together. Black Rock was picked up the day after its premiere by LD Entertainment.

 

Excision

I think of myself as a horror fan, although I'm not as knowledgeable as many of my friends and colleagues. Then I'll see something like Excision and think to myself, "Self, you are a giant wuss and you should go home and take a nap because this movie was FUBAR." Then again, there were many more things wrong with Excision than just the gore.

Excision

The otherwise abnormally hot AnnaLynne McCord (90210, The Haunting of Molly Hartley) somehow transformed herself into Pauline, a lantern-jawed, greasy-haired sociopath who has graphic wet dreams of necrophilia, abortion, and generally getting seriously gooey in other people's innards. The main thrust of the movie is that she dreams of being a surgeon and would like to cure her sister's cystic fibrosis with a lung transplant -- you know, the kind you do at home. That's the synopsis, and that's the story, and in the middle is a whole bunch of stuff that doesn't quite add up.

One of the big gimmicks here is that Traci Lords plays Pauline's mom. Phyllis is a nice church-going lady who purses her mouth disapprovingly, dotes on Pauline's little sister Grace, and emotionally terrorizes her husband, played by Roger Bart. Sure, it's a dysfunctional family, but not anything out of the ordinary that would explain Pauline's aberrant behavior.

It's hard to pin down what we're supposed to think of Pauline. Sometimes Pauline seems totally lucid, laser sharp, and full of self-righteous anger at the adults around her, like her creepy priest/therapist, who's played by John Waters, or when she prays to a god she might believe in. (Waters is just one of several strange and amusing cameos that include Marlee Matlin, Malcolm McDowell, and Ray Wise.) Sometimes she seems like she's trying to make friends and wants to fit in but just can't, like when the pretty girls at school tease her about her boyish figure. Sometimes it seems like she has a social disorder that makes her unaware of what is appropriate and what isn't, like when she tells her little sister she wants to lose her virginity when she's on her period. And other times, she just seems utterly effing insane, like when she drinks a bunch of Ipecac in the bathroom so she can projectile vomit on a cruel classmate. At one point during her prayers, she says, "I'd accept full responsibility for my actions, but let's face it. You gave me hormones." What does that even mean?

The story itself just meanders; we already know how the movie will end, so it's simply a matter of getting there. The idea to save her sister and ostensibly win her mother's love through this experimental home surgery (even though she seems to hate her mother and have nothing in common with her sister) is almost a whim. The movie is just a bunch of increasingly gross scenarios that lead up to a climax that's as subtle as Pauline's seduction techniques.

The direction itself is weirdly static in many places, with lots of full-face shots even when the characters are talking to each other. Pauline's fantasies are actually coolly stylish, like a medical fetish porn crossed with a music video. In these scenes, McCord is dressed and made-up fantastically, making her transformation even more stunning. And in her prayer scenes, she appears as a head, hair, and praying arms and hands as she looks up into the camera; it's effective and interesting and shows that there are some good ideas hidden in there somewhere.

Walkouts are par for the course at festivals, and I'd be hard-pressed to say how many people walked out of Excision, but it was interesting to see them leave during or after one of Pauline's fantasy interludes. I almost left so many times; I started rethinking my choice as soon as the short film Lazarov started.

It's really hard to separate the content of the film and my visceral reaction to it from my dislike of the film. Of course it's supposed to be disgusting; the Sundance volunteers were handing out fake used tampons in bottles as swag, for God's sake. But there's no real point to any of it, which is a problem because it seems to be aiming higher than simple shocking gross-outs. It's body horror, but it's not smart body horror, and it's traumatizing but not in a way that suggests a deeper meaning, like some might argue of Martyrs. Honestly, I don't know what the hell to think of Excision except I wish I'd gone to see Red Lights instead, and that's really saying something.

Categories: Indie, Horror, Film Festivals
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