Excess Flesh Dir. Patrick Kennelly

[Acort International; 2016]

Styles: thriller
Others: Repulsion, Single White Female, Audition, Starry Eyes

The key word in the title is “excess.” Sure, “flesh” plays into it, but the word that ran through my head while watching Patrick Kennelly’s Excess Flesh was “excessive;” but not in a bad way. Kennelly (who co-wrote the film with Sigrid Gilmer) goes to shocking extremes both in the film’s creation and in its plotting. While the actresses onscreen are tasked with experiencing intense emotions and situations, Kennelly forces the audience to sit through many severe close-ups of mouths eating food, regurgitating food, and other discomfiting moments that appear to indulgent and go way beyond the norm for most films. While in other hands this — psychotic behavior and grossness for the sake of shock value — could be a detriment, in Excess Flesh it’s a great through line for a life of binging and purging, going to extremes to be desired. Kennelly has created an almost new spin on Cronenbergian riffs, a “body shaming horror” subgenre that does an excellent job of portraying a fragile mindset in a harsh reality.

Jill (Bethany Orr) and Jennifer (Mary Loveless) are roommates in Los Angeles. Jill, like so many there, is a transplant and trying to find work while Jennifer has a job in the fashion industry. Both of them are bulimic, but Jennifer makes it “work” for her; in fact, she makes everything work for her. Her incredibly bitchy comments are seen as pithy and just being truthful; her ability to seduce and then throw away men as she pleases, even if it’s a man in whom Jill is interested. If Jill is the worried, slightly pudgy superego that is too meek and nice, then Jennifer is the wildly uncontrollable and selfishly invested id. But eventually Jill has had enough of Jennifer’s shit, and seeks to reclaim ownership of her life and exact revenge when doing so. But what does Jill lose when she attempts to gain the upper hand?

The answer is: her sanity. Jill goes painfully, depressingly insane over the course of the film and does so in ways that at first are tragic and simple, but eventually become grandiose and terrifying. When she abuses herself for swallowing food instead of spitting it up, it’s genuinely shocking and Kennelly stays tight on her face as she smacks herself over and over again. Orr does a tremendous job in the role, first appearing as the put upon friend, then as the sympathetic monster, and finally as the deranged lunatic completely unhinged from reality. Loveless, as Jennifer, also fairs well; at first she appears like one of the ugly Americans you can’t wait to see get chopped up in a Hostel movie or a jerk from a slasher flick whose appointment with the machete is long overdue. But as time goes on, and Jill’s scheme runs its course, Jennifer becomes much more sympathetic and her plight becomes obvious in retrospect, her bravado covering up for something broken within her.

The film looks amazing even while mainly staying inside of one set, the apartment. There are peeks of the outside world here and there with external shots that shows a beautiful Los Angeles overlaid with cacophonous sounds of people going about their lives who are unaware of the horrors at work. The sound design, and especially the music by Jonathan Snipes, goes to great lengths to unnerve audiences. The film is squirm inducing in its awkwardness at first, as we watch Jill navigate her bully’s waters; then, it becomes hard to watch as Jill’s self hatred takes control and makes her lash out at the world. Kennelly has created a film that works on multiple levels, but all of them get under the skin.

Excess Flesh isn’t perfect. There are some incongruous moments and a bit of an ambiguous curveball ending that leaves the story unnecessarily it open to interpretation. Nonetheless, Excess Flesh is an excellent achievement in creepy cinema that shows the unfortunate effects of what happens when power is taken away from people; whether that’s by being held captive by another or by the standards of a world that doesn’t care to look beyond the superficial. By addressing topics rarely seen, and doing so with such bravado and artistic flair, Kennelly has delivered an assured film that speaks to his abilities as a director -— one will resonate with audiences for years to come and continue to freak them out as well.

Most Read