Excess Flesh (2015)
Editor’s Note: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2015 Boston Underground Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit bostonunderground.org and follow BUFF on Twitter @.
We as a society have a real problem dealing with ourselves. Especially when it comes to women. Despite making up over half of our population, years of minimization and the bolstering of a patriarchal model have, with no true reasoning, positioned women as lesser. In the very way women are presented to us, the manner in which we plaster them across our magazines, they are shown not as full people but as objects of desire, often little more than a sexual goal. As director Patrick Kennelly introduced his film he said, “this is a very LA movie,” and sure, the somewhat ironically named City of Angels may act a “center of excellence” in terms of skewed body image expectations; but Excess Flesh is far from just a move about an LA problem. This struggle with body image is worldwide and viscerally relevant to the States in particular. It’s just too bad the film isn’t a bit better.
Things get dark. Things get weird. Things get scary. And it all happens so suddenly.
The film starts in an odd space. The characters are barely actual people. Mary Loveless’ Jennifer is Regina George cranked to eleven and then gifted with the tableside manners of a drunken obese truck driver. Bethany Orr’s Jill exists like an orbiting satellite to Jennifer, wrapped in a social butterfly’s vision of awkward. How these two came to live together or found a way to call their relationship anything close to friendship is not merely unclear, but wholly unfathomable. This problem of character development is not confined to merely the leads, it bleeds into every last “person” that drifts through the background. These aren’t people, they are ideas, caricatures at best.
The first half of the film is a monotonous slog. There is little build and the moments act as repetitive taunts to walk out. Deep down you believe that this must be going somewhere. But as each moment passes, no evidence is provided to support your continued allegiance. It is as if Kennelly is daring you to leave before he chooses to get to the point. Is this some trial we must undergo for reward? Is this front of mundanity a metaphor for the persistent, yet often unspoken body image issues so many grapple with? Kennelly scatters breadcrumbs that could lead you here, but it still feels like reaching.
Then it all turns. The darkness that we thought Jill may be dealing with explodes onto the surface and it couldn’t have come any sooner. Things get dark. Things get weird. Things get scary. And it all happens so suddenly. If it was Kennelly’s plan to lull his audience into a sense of unawareness, that we have trudged this far with nothing worthwhile, so why would it change, then he definitely succeeds. Although, there is a sense that he wants us to care for the terrible Jennifer who now fills the role of victim. But her ugly and mean-spirited nature have made her the villain. It places the audience in the very awkward position of feeling like the awful may be somewhat warranted. It’s the type of feeling that you hate yourself for having, but then can’t quite shake.
[Bethany Orr’s] performance is exquisitely unhinged and scattered. Her mania is palpable and there is even a hint of joy in the darkness.
The descent into madness is so rapid that it is nearly a relief. As Jill comes apart at every seam, stealing the confidence and power from Jennifer, actress Bethany Orr shines. Her performance is exquisitely unhinged and scattered. Her mania is palpable and there is even a hint of joy in the darkness. This disjointed frenzy is reminiscent of Michael Shannon in William Friedkin’s Bug. It is overflowing with delusional madness that carries a staggering authenticity, making it all the more terrifying. Orr has transformed this meek and fragile dud into a force to be reckoned with, leaving the audience scared and curious as to of what she may be capable. In Excess Flesh, Jill’s implosion is like the blossoming of some frightening flower. Like a flower, after it has shown itself it has nowhere else to go but out, with the film slowly wilting away after this grand display.
Despite the film’s many dalliances with the mediocre, there are some elements consistently at play that speak to a greater potential. Throughout the entirety of the film the sound design and music are utterly amazing. The smacks and squishes are heightened just enough to be endlessly unsettling. It is gentle in its execution, not always making the audience aware of just why they are squirming so much. It audibly builds a sense of dread and discomfort that pushes the film over the hump of its lesser story and poor character development. It may not be enough to make the film great, but it certainly makes it unforgettable and all the more uncomfortable. Excess Flesh is effectively like a sandwich one of its characters would certainly defile. In between two largely forgettable slices of stale white bread, resides this delicious moist morsel that entices you to eat more. However, as you go in for a bite you are immediately struck by a pervasive smell of rot. It is repulsive and nauseating. But you eat it anyway.
Excess Flesh is effectively like a sandwich one of its characters would certainly defile. In between two largely forgettable slices of stale white bread, resides this delicious moist morsel that entices you to eat more. However, as you go in for a bite you are immediately struck by a pervasive smell of rot. It is repulsive and nauseating. But you eat it anyway.