Obsessed with her sexy roommate, Jill violently imprisons Jennifer in their apartment in a twisted attempt to bring them closer together.
Sigrid Gilmer, Patrick Kennelly
Bethany Orr as Jill
Mary Loveless as Jennifer
Wes McGee as Rob
I very often recall the passage of one of the many movie review / movie-related books I’ve collected over the years – when I see something with astounding knockout performances. The remembered passage references the 1984 erotic thriller, Crimes of Passion – directed by Ken Russell. It doesn’t speak fondly of the film as a whole, but it does say of Kathleen Turner’s daring performance, something along the lines of, “A performance too good to ignore.”
And indeed, after today’s screening of the indie-thriller, Excess Flesh, I’m gonna gush (not about the ample blood present), but about the two lead performances.
Fondly bringing to mind the 1992 Bridget Fonda / Jennifer Jason Leigh thriller, Single White Female, Excess Flesh goes much deeper when dealing with insanity, obsession and the dire need for love and acceptance. It also goes much further in its graphic visuals.
Jill (Bethany Orr) has recently moved to Los Angeles, apparently to escape her boozy mother and cold father. She rooms with successful model Jennifer (Mary Loveless), and they have equal, if different obsessive relationships with food. It’s their drug. Jill is a bit plumper (more-so in her mind) than Jennifer, and Jennifer constantly lets Jill know this – defining her nasty insults and harsh jabs as: “motivational”. After a possible romance for Jill with handsome Rob (Wes McGee) and one final “flip of the bird” (so to speak) from Jennifer to Jill, Jill goes off the deep end, and ties up Jennifer in their apartment. Lots of gnarly histories are revealed, as Jill makes it her sole mission to become the best of friends, if not become Jennifer herself.
As you can surmise from the above words, this film is all about performance. Both ladies revealed everything (physically, emotionally and mentally) and it’s quite a sight to behold as the characters struggle for power in the relationship. At the outset, Jill’s nothing more than a depressed agoraphobe, so her journey into madness is powerful, believable and frightening. With the editing in the film, you never know how much time has passed since the last scene. That uncertainty paired with Orr’s performance, lend an impressive quality of suspense and anticipation. What are we going to see the next time Jill goes into her bedroom to check on Jennifer? Each time, it’s a surprise, if rarely a sigh of relief.
And the film also succeeds nicely in letting us in on why Jill may be so easy to break. A couple of brief Skype-calls with her drunken mother (and father who refuses to speak to Jill) quickly and effectively sum up where Jill is coming from – as well as garnering plenty of sympathy for this very damaged woman.
As for Jennifer’s history – at one point, Jill brings up some of Jennifer’s difficult demons (as well as a chunk of symbolic red velvet cake). Loveless’ eyes turn into an impressive water-works. She sells all of the physical and emotional pain which Jill inflicts, and despite Jennifer’s absolute bitchiness early on – you start to feel as though, even someone as nasty as Jennifer, doesn’t deserve this – certainly when her difficult past is revealed.
Both women’s performances are award-worthy. They’re that nuanced. They’re that bold. And they’re that good. Orr and Loveless are the top reasons to watch Excess Flesh.
It’s a very contained thriller, and for once, this lack of “going outside” works. Other than a hectic Iron-Chef inspired dream sequence and a chilling and taut scene on the street outside their apartment building, we spend most of the time inside this little two-bedroom dwelling. And it works! Writer/director Patrick Kennelly makes great use of the space. The camera-work never feels repetitive and despite the location’s simplicity and bright demeanor, the film still feels oppressive and dirty.
Speaking of dirt (or in this case, filth), as Jill falls further and further into her inner struggle, her hygiene suffers as does her housekeeping. You can almost smell the stench in every corner of the apartment. There are lots of bodily fluids in Excess Flesh, and I warn you – the no-holds-barred, unflinching footage of the abode’s deplorable conditions, is quite impressive – if totally nauseating.
Adding to the gross-out factor, is the use of sound in the film. There’s a heckuva lot of eating here, and since it’s such an important part of the ladies’ psychoses, it gets lots of up-close (camera and boom) attention. There are lots of squishes, chews, gags and that nasty sound of a spoon/fork on teeth. In one particular drawn-out scene, Jill prepares an over-abundance of mac-n-cheese before settling in front of the television, late one night. Suffice to say that with this scene and its insane sound-work, you’ll forever question any forthcoming craving for such a meal. Yuck!
On a deeper note, the film is a harsh reminder of the stresses which plague women (and men too) about body image, fat, exercise, diet and notions of beauty. It faces the ridiculousness of these peer pressures, head on. And while this is a fantasy film which goes to the outer limits of a mental breakdown – could it really be that difficult to take the leap and see a similar report on your 6 o’clock news?
As for negatives, I found it a little hard to swallow that with all of Jennifer’s screaming and pounding and struggling (in an apartment complex), that eventually the police would not have been called. The story sets up that Jennifer is promiscuous and a loud lover – but that was a bit too flimsy of an excuse for me to buy. Also, the film’s running time was too long. I believe a shave of about 10 minutes could have benefitted the film – just getting rid of some of the excess flesh (pardon me) and tightening and firming all that remained.
Excess Flesh is currently making its rounds on the festival circuit and just completed a week-long theatrical run in Los Angeles. Stay tuned for information on any DVD/VOD release or other theatrical runs in your area. Totally worth your while!