Directed by Patrick Kennelly
Starring: Bethany Orr, Mary Loveless, Wes McGee
Walking to the Moon Productions
Reviewed by T.A. Wardrope
Horror filmmaking has always had a solid footing in social satire. Okay, not always, but much of the time these movies find the world around them as scary as whatever beasties they may throw at the audience. From David Cronenberg (Videodrome) to Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), the horrors of society have provided plenty of material. Many horror movies ring hollow or insincere because they lack this sort of subtext.
Excess Flesh, directed by Patrick Kennelly, does not have this problem. The film sits in the world of fashion models in Los Angeles, specifically a pair of model roommates who have very different relationships to their eating habits. One has an eating disorder of the binging/purging variety, and the other can eat and do whatever she wants with seemingly no ill effects. The relationship degenerates in sadistic and hedonistic ways until hallucinations become more common than reality.
At first glance, Excess Flesh has all the details it would need to be a smart, cultish horror flick for fans of intelligent horror, or “art house” horror as some have called it. The production is solid; cinematographer Benjamin Conley delivers low budget visuals which tell the story in a smart way. There’s some good use of color and an intentional palette which films in this niche often either overlook or can’t afford. Performances are solid, though a bit stagey at times, but they do work to divert attention from the revelations of the final tripped-out minutes of the film.
Unfortunately, there is a “reality tv” hallucination segment which swerves way outside the lines set out by the beginning of the film. This bit goes on too long and doesn’t do much for the total of the film. “Trying to hard” is a concise explanation. This points to a deeper problem in the film, in that while it does not ring hollow, it does feel not quite correct. In directing this “feminist” film, director Kennelly has set a substantial task for himself. It’s not impossible, of course, for a male director to create a feminist critique, but it does complicate things. As a result there are many moments which don’t seem quite authentic, but filtered through the lens of a well-meaning spectator. The models, Jennifer and Jill, serve as broad characters for the purpose of satire, but they don’t have the depth needed to make them work as full-blooded individuals.
I guess it’s a credit to the filmmakers that my disappointment is defined by my hope for Excess Flesh. Let’s chalk this one up to a great effort that may be regarded in the same way other early films are. A hint of things to come that doesn’t completely stand as a mature work. I look forward to seeing their next film. Hopefully, it will be baked a few minutes more before being served.