A blinding flash of sun-soaked palm trees and glass buildings gives way to a caliginous, cramped apartment. Its living room is packed with lithe, heroin chic models snorting lines of cocaine, clinking shots of vodka, and snapping Polaroids of one another. These vacuous pretty things are only basking in each other’s beauty, firing off complements like a TEC-9. In a bedroom away from the action sits a deflated, redheaded young woman. She’s a bit curvier than the bunch and is haunted by the haute commotion beyond the door. So, she self-flagellates by stuffing her face with Pop-Tarts and dry ramen. And before you can say “bulimia nervosa,” she’s sprinting over to the bathroom where she shoves her fingers deep into her throat and pukes her guts out in nauseating slow-mo.
Meet Jill (Bethany Orr), the thoroughly disturbed woman at the center of Excess Flesh, a gross out body horror flick that made its premiere at this year’s SXSW.
Excess Flesh is directed by Patrick Kennelly, a multimedia artist who’s garnered acclaim for his musical PATTY, which L.A. Weekly called “one of the most exhilarating eviscerations in L.A. this year.” Indeed, the Hell-A depicted in the film is a cold, dark apartment occupied by two female foils. In addition to Jill, there’s her underminer, Jennifer (Mary Loveless)—a gorgeous, carefree, filthy rich, and wildly sadistic twenty-something who taunts her less fortunate “friend” by binging on food in her presence, flaunting her superior metabolism. Her teeth mash and tear away at chips and burritos in grotesque slow-mo, as she belittles her rounder roommate: “You’re lying around in your fat and your filth…” She may as well deliver Tyler Durden’s monologue from Fight Club: “All the ways you wish you could be, that's me. I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.”
Jill never eats, instead pulling a Dom DeLuise in Fatso, chaining up the refrigerator to bar her from entering. But Jennifer, of course, has no respect for her pal’s boundaries, tormenting her by licking the chocolate off her fingers whilst in her presence, and sexing any man who shows interest in poor Jill, who is forced to spend her nights overhearing the moans of ecstasy through the wall.
“Dude, I’m fucked up,” Kennelly says with a laugh. “The feelings are generated from feelings of isolation and desperation of being in Los Angeles for a decade. It’s so dispersed and you’re just trapped in your little cocoon, whether it’s your car or your apartment. Part of the goal here was to capture how it feels to be inside this strange place, but on the outside looking in.”
The odd thing is, despite her severe body dysmorphic disorder, Jill’s body is quite normal-looking. She only seems heavy when compared to Jennifer and her crew of models, representing the unrealistic expectations imposed on young woman, who are basically skeletons with boobs.
“It was written based on the idea of a Lena Dunham-type, but as we were casting, we realized it was more about the insanity of these ideals,” says Kennelly. “When Jill steps on the scale, it was important that that was the real weight of that actor at that moment. And she’s only 135 pounds! Obviously, this actress and that character in the movie—they’re normal. So it becomes how these external forces are twisting us in unhealthy ways.”
Eventually, Jill becomes mad as hell and isn’t going to take the psychological abuse anymore. She decides to accost Jennifer in the middle of the night and chain her Black Snake Moan-style to the wall of her bedroom. And then a role-reversal kicks in, with Jill as the judge and Jennifer as the judged. She taunts Jennifer by eating an entire cake in front of her, then, she breaks out a black magic marker and begins circling all of her nemesis’s “problem areas” where her emaciated body has even the smallest ounce of fat, like a deranged plastic surgeon. “The interesting thing is women within that culture who reinforce these unrealistic ideals,” says Kennelly.
If the cake-eating and Nip/Tuck impersonation weren’t enough, Jill gifts Jennifer with a crate of gummy bears, and the starved captive gorges herself on the colorful treats. Then, she slaps her prisoner across her face and body, yelling, “Dance! Show me how you make the boys go wild!”
In one surreal—and truly insane—nightmare sequence, Jill is in the midst of having furious sex with her hunky male suitor on a table when Jennifer materializes, shooting kumquats from her nether region at the humping duo, all while Jill’s mother and a gaggle of fashionistas look on. Her sexual concentration is finally broken when a Wall Street a-hole in a suit emerges from a gigantic suitcase to beat and rape Jennifer in front of Jill. Needless to say, the tension between these two troubled women builds to a brutal, bloody climax.
“I’ve completely unpeeled the onion, and it smells,” says Kennelly. “I believe that our realities are full of clichés and based on images and things that we’ve received and reinterpreted in different ways. Excess Flesh is a visualization of what goes on inside a woman’s head. It’s about the nightmare of the self in the modern world.”