Excess Flesh is a repugnant – yet impeccably designed – tableau of a superficial culture that judges women on their thigh gaps.
It’s director Patrick Kennelly’s first feature, co-written with Sigrid Gilmer, and he’s discussed in interviews that it’s a treatise of sorts on the insular, often intolerable, and usually intolerant world of Los Angeles. Even if you weren’t aware of that before seeing Excess Flesh, the film makes his points clear from a visual perspective: the dazzling opening shot of palm trees swaying against the mirrored panes of glass in a skyscraper sets the tone for everything that follows. Much of the film alternates between interior shots of an apartment and exteriors crammed with cars and buildings, giving it a claustrophobic feel.
Jill (Bethany Orr) and Jennifer (Mary Loveless) are roommates but they could be sisters or fraternal twins: Jennifer’s natural auburn hair is a shade less vibrant than Jill’s obviously color-treated locks, but they’re both pale and freckled with blue eyes. Jennifer picks at Jill like a favorite scab that she’ll never let heal, laughing as she shoves Doritos n her own mouth and calls Jill fat and lazy and boring. Yet their difficult friendship feels real in a way that is uncomfortably familiar to any woman who’s been stuck in one of these kinds of passive aggressive relationships with another woman.
Excess Flesh‘s framing and utilization of color are immaculate, even as the images it reveals become more and more hideous. Shades of pearl, pink, and blue dominate while slow motion close ups provide visceral contrast to the Barbie Dream House world in which Jennifer seems to thrive but which threatens to choke Jill to death. The sound design is equally exquisite yet horrifying; the noises of mastication are nearly unbearable.
Some viewers might find the ongoing histrionics in Excess Flesh ridiculous but they fit within the world of the film in the same way David Lynch’s characters do: insanity reaching out into an insane universe and grabbing whatever it can. Like Requiem For A Dream, it gazes upon addiction and despair and despises what it sees. Although Excess Flesh could probably be trimmed by about ten minutes without losing any of its ugly luster, it’s still a thoroughly unpleasant and unshakeable journey.
From the beginning of the film, we know something isn’t quite right. Jill and Jennifer possess something dark that’s been rotting and collecting mold in the background. The pieces of their particular puzzle don’t always fit and when Excess Flesh begins to strain credulity, it’s a feeling that only becomes harder and harder to ignore as it progresses. It’s a joy to watch a movie like Excess Flesh, being thrust into its gorgeous, grotesque void, and struggling to get our bearings and find a way out.
However, that also makes Excess Flesh difficult to review without giving away all of its nasty secrets. There’s a lot to discuss about what society values as traditional and appropriate goals for women to achieve as well as how self-hatred is the most damaging kind. When everything eventually shifts into place then it all makes sense. That gut feeling you had bubbles up from the pit of your stomach and takes up residence in the back of your throat. Even after the movie ends, you can still taste it.
Excess Flesh is a remarkable achievement that needs to be seen more than once to appreciate it fully. And it deserves to be seen by a lot of people. But you probably don’t want to eat anything while you’re watching Excess Flesh. And you might not want to eat anything afterwards, either.