Jill and Jennifer are two women living in LA, and while they are roommates, they couldn’t be anymore different from one another. Jennifer is a top fashion model who lives a rather promiscuous life and does what she wants, when she wants. Jill is a shy, reclusive young woman who idolizes and obsesses over her roommate because she sees Jennifer as the person she wants to be. Jill’s obsession turns deadly when she breaks down and loses what little grip on reality she had.
It’s tough to know when to make a movie that says something or to let a movie be nothing more than an entertainment. “Excess Flesh” is the feature film from new comers Sigrid Gilmer and Patrick Kennelly and it’s a tough one to decipher on how you should approach it as a viewer. The trailer sells the movie as “Single White Female” taken to the extreme. The movie itself delivers mix signals of a being modern exploitation and a character study reflecting women’s social issues.
While the intended point of “Excess Flesh” may be a little confusing but, in the end, it exists as a solid character piece. Very similar to the last movie I reviewed, “Hard Scrambled”, “Excess Flesh” was co-scripted by Sigrid Gilmer — a playwright. Now, I don’t know if “Excess Flesh” was ever intended to be a stage play but it could very will work as one because it has that tight focus on the characters and being performance driven. And make no mistake, “Excess Flesh” is a good movie but where the problem lies is trying to understand what it wants to do.
I feel bad for the movie since, undoubtedly, it will be branded with the “torture porn” label because the trailer does give off an exploitation vibe. And sure, there is a slight feeling of exploitation that lingers in the air, but the concept is much stronger than that. More importantly, it doesn’t sacrifice interesting characters for the sake of cheap thrills. Not to mention that the most horrific thing that happens in the movie is a woman being force fed puréed food. So, even with Jennifer being chained to a wall by Jill, the focus is on one woman’s psychosis causing her to break down another (psychologically) due to obsession and delusion.
However, what’s interesting in these characters is that there isn’t a protagonist nor is there an antagonist. Jill and Jennifer are both broken people and you can find humanity within each characters but it’s difficult to ever actually sympathize or empathize for either. You understand them and you understand why they are the way they are but there’s a lack of an emotional core that you, the viewer, can attach to. From a writing perspective, it’s a strong point that these are not clear cut characters but, sadly, there wasn’t something more there. Something tangible.
In a way, that’s the overall problem I have with “Excess Flesh”. There are a number of strong points to the movie but they have a tendency to fall short. Again, it’s a good movie but those shortcomings keep it from being a great movie. There’s humanity found in the characters because they are shaped by reality — while both Jill and Jennifer suffer from body dysmorphia, they each have their own faults and we witness how these faults define who they are. Jennifer, sexually degraded by a former partner turns her problems outward and is promiscuous and abusive to others. Jill, who is shamed for not being good enough, turns reclusive and remains introverted. That is until her suppressive and passive cause a psychotic and violent breakdown. All of their faults can be traced back to issue that women — all women — face in reality but there’s nothing done with that. Granted, that’s not necessarily a bad thing since a movie doesn’t always have to have a message, subtext, social commentary, or whatever you want to call it. Why it’s problem in this movie is because there’s so much focus on these issues, and they’re an integral part of the characters, which makes it seem like the movie wants to say something but never does.
I guess the best way to put it is that “Excess Flesh” is a middle of the road kind of movie. For every pro, there is a con. And as I said, there are a lot of strong points but with each successful element, there’s another that falls flat. There’s an interesting little moment where the movie shatters the 4th wall when Jill has a nightmare and within that nightmare the movie acknowledges itself. It’s risky move to throw a scene like that into your movie because you risk a disconnect with the audience. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen. At least it doesn't at the time, but when the ending comes rolling around, it completely nullifies the scene. Not only does the ending render that scene pointless, but it makes it painfully obvious that it was inserted in there for the sake of having something weird and abstract because there’s absolutely no reason for it. In general, the ending is what lets this movie down more than anything else.
Such a statement certainly means that “Excess Flesh” is a bad movie and that I wouldn’t recommend it, right? Actually, no. The ending is certainly disappointing and there are some glaring flaws in regards to the general point of the movie and that it has tendency to feel emotionally empty. However, the characters of Jill and Jennifer are very strong and the performances from Bethany Orr and Mary Loveless are incredible. If I had to give one reason, and one reason only, as to why you should watch “Excess Flesh” it would be to watch these two women give fearless performances. And from a production standpoint, “Excess Flesh” is a well made and polished product (especially for a feature debut). It’s the content, and quality thereof, that makes it questionable and difficult to blindly recommend to people.