Pauline is eighteen; a slightly backward loner with no friends, whose sociopathic nature means she delights in being a deliberate nuisance to everyone; and who is a believer of God at her own convenience. Sounds like the symptoms of a typical teenage tragedy, right? But the fact that Pauline has psycho pseudo-sexual fantasies about surgical operations and has a lustrous, sexual stimulation for the feel, smell and taste of blood, immediately sets her miles apart from your generic teen struggling with adolescence. Pauline isn’t just any teenager, and this isn’t just any coming-of-age movie.
Despite failing academically at school, Pauline is desperately delusional about becoming a surgeon, disregarding any learning that isn’t likely to be important to become one later in life. Her diligence at school is elsewhere practiced, doing as much as she can to annoy her enemy classmates and deter wearisome teachers. Being shunned for her careless and sloppy appearance, and being labelled “weird” for her tactless and blunt remarks, Pauline is more than happy to unlike and be unliked, though seems confused at abrupt rejections in some instances where she tries to be kind. She waves at a new girl across the street but has to settle for the finger gesture back.
These fantasies that Pauline has when she is asleep are shown as visually intense, spectacularly vivid, colourful dreams, tastefully crafted in several short sequences which act to temporarily disrupt the dreary and monotonous existence off Pauline’s real life. These dreams show clean, surgical atmospheres which are passionately tainted with masses of splattered red blood and torn out organs. Although they are more for aesthetic pleasure rather than professional skill, they encourage her aspiration of a medical career, and she smiles as she writhes and reaches her orgasmic climax.
Pauline’s family may appear to be a perfectly painted picture of the pristine surburban family on the outside, but at the dinner table a control freak mother; a passive, much-of-nothing father; and a younger sister slowly dying with cystic fibrosis is the verified reality. Pauline begrudges her parents for insisting she sees a psychiatric doctor whom she has no disrespect for, questioning his level of profession and making her opinions of his inadequacy to treat her very clear. She makes adamant that she should see a real psychiatrist, though her self awareness of her ‘condition’ goes back and forth throughout the movie; sometimes she begs for professional help and other times defends her sociopathic nature – which she asks, “what teenager doesn’t have?”
Despite her whimsical angst and carefree intolerance to be polite to anyone, there lies a deep emotional hardship for Pauline, and her family. Though sister and daughter Grace (Ariel Winter) is suffering from a fatal disease, which is perhaps the only thing that keeps the family together, this worry is predominantly subsided to the sideline of the erupting family break down. All mother Phyllis (Traci Lords) wants of her daughter is for her to be an educated and polite lady. But with Pauline sneering at cotillion classes and getting suspended from school, a dead beat mother breaks down in anger and heartbreak as she struggles to find anything to love in eldest daughter. Though she recognises her strict discipline on her daughters and tries to reach out to make amends, she is met by an inattentive Pauline who swiftly disregards her. Likewise, when Pauline openly attempts a heart-to-heart, her mother is far past her efforts to listen. It seems that this tragic relationship between mother and daughter is the underlying backbone for Pauline’s mental problems, though it is never confirmed. Instead, she confides her inappropriate wishes to God and her little sister – or whoever is too afraid to answer back. As for the helpless father and husband Bob (Roger Bart), he is forever stuck in the middle of the house’s female fury, but lacks any real substance as a character and sort of falls by the waist side to his wife and daughter’s snarling accusations.
With little guidance and no proper psychotic treatment, Pauline decides to take matters into her own hands, believing that she may have the potential to put other people first for once and finally find approval from her mother. But unfortunately for Pauline and her family, the culmination of her dreams isn’t as gratifying when practiced in real life.
It’s almost as if the role of disgruntled and mentally disturbed, psychotic teen was written for AnnaLynne McCord. Largely solely driving the narrative, she plays a truly intriguing individual whom we rightfully struggle to understand as she convincingly bats between victim and perpetrator. We are both disgusted at her character absurdities and sympathetic to her lack of self-constraint. An interesting and perhaps nightmarish cross-between, but think: a miniature Pollyanna McIntosh in The Woman (2011) for her shabby appearance and awkward posture, and Ezra Miller in We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) for her seeming contentment with sadistic aggression.
While we initially jive and joule at Pauline’s attitude towards her peers and the tricks she plays on her school colleagues, Bates deploys a much more serious and harrowing reality that creeps into the latter stages of the movie. The misfortune of suffering from emotional or mental illness is played out and the disastrous consequence of abundant ignorance is realised only when it’s too late. Though boasting cross-generic elements of comedy and drama, Bates produces an engaging psychological horror which is both entertaining and poignant.