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Excess Flesh
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by Jay Seaver

"Not bad, but don't buy snacks."
3 stars

SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 17: Perhaps surprisingly for an underground film festival, a lot of people coming into this show were using the phrase used to describe it in the program - "body horror" - like it was two words that they had never considered concatenating them in such a way. That's fair enough; as much as it's a reasonable description of "Excess Flesh", it's not necessarily the usual type of movie that elicits the phrase. The question is, how much does it have beyond the basic concept of a young woman's unhealthy relationship with her physicality.

Los Angeles is the sort of place that can foster that attitude, and it's where Jill (Bethany Orr) is making her home, though she has yet to find a job, which makes for some tension with her roommate Jennifer (Mary Loveless). Jennifer works in the fashion industry and remains a skinny thing despite her tendency to wolf down a big snack after coming home, swinging between being supportive and cruel where Jill is concerned. Still, a nice guy seeks Jill out at one of Jennifer's parties, but when she sees Rob (Wes McGee) making out with Jennifer later...

It gets ugly, safe to say, but it also kind of stalls out. Once the chains come off the refrigerator and onto Jennifer, there's an immediate jolt of tension, but it also limits just how many directions director Patrick Kennelly and his co-writer Sigrid Gilmer can go with it. They find good ways to crank the tension of these two women in a room up a notch or two on occasion, but it's a long enough time in the room that a viewer's mind can start to wander. You start to come up with theories about what's really going on, then start examining every scene to see if it supports that theory more than feeling it. It's far from crippling - you probably won't find yourself groaning for them to get out of the room - but it's a fair amount of the same thing.

Fortunately, the two actresses in the room are pretty good. Bethany Orr has the tricky job of making sure that the audience remembers that Jill was the one that had the audience's sympathy early on even as her revenge gets more unpleasant. There's awkwardness to her that never falls into something that the audience can easily disdain or rally around, but is just part of who she is. Mary Loveless is strong, too, hitting a bulls-eye on a certain sort of cruelty that young women inflict upon each other within quite making a villain out of Jennifer. They make a fine team, which means the others drifting through the movie don't have to do much, though Wes McGee is fine as the amiable potential boyfriend; Jill Jacobson is an amusingly awful mother on the other end of the phone.

Kennelly and the crew makes sure that things are properly repulsive around them; the lighting in the apartment tends to be just low enough to be uncomfortable, although not enough to obscure the filth that builds up over their time there. He also does a fantastically perverse job in making the act of eating look disgusting, whether through excess, way-too-close-ups, the sort of sloppiness that demands faster use of a napkin, etc. It's the sort of visual that communicates just how food can be an enemy of sorts, especially when ingested with carelessness rather than actual appreciation - there's no joy in binging as an act of rebellion or frustration.

There's some food for thought in "Excess Flesh", to be sure, although it's weighted much more toward communicating the visceral feel of dealing with eating disorders and body shaming than offering any insight. It's probably a bit longer and less that it could be, but the film should have an effect on most who see it, and that does seem to be the goal.

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originally posted: 04/10/15 04:46:25
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2015 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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