Day: March 28, 2016

Chemsex (2016)

Chemsex is an extremely confronting documentary. It has to be. Directed by William Fairman and Max Gogarty, the film focuses on a subculture embedded in social networking, such as Grindr, that allows men to hook up not only for vanilla sex, but drug-fuelled sex. Admittedly there’s nothing new about the combination of sexual activity and narcotics, whether you’re gay, straight or bi. Chemsex knows this and instead highlights the how easy it can be to go from a gripping one-night thrill, to something much darker.

Fairman and Gogarty, with no narration, follow the lives of several chemsex aficionados as they live and love across the UK. All ages, all different walks of life, they have all been part of the chemsex lifestyle which sadly threatens to consume them whole. On the other side of the coin is David Stuart, a health worker at 56 Dean Street, an outreach centre in London. Stuart doesn’t look upon his patients as good or bad. They’re just people. ‘It’s not binary!’ he points out.

Stuart has seen, as we do through the documentary, how the phenomenon goes from being a cheeky dare to something that chips away at a person, leaving them utterly hollow. Despite insistences from some that they can, as the old cliché goes, quite any time they want, they often find out too late that they can’t.

There will be some who use Chemsex to propagate a myth which reinforces their own problematic ideas of alternative lifestyles. They will see men talk openly and honestly about the pain they put themselves and others through. They will see men exposing their souls to an unjudging eye. They will hear their stories and, despite everything, they will come out the other end sharpening their caustic putdowns and gearing themselves up for their next outpouring of bile, whether online or, sadly, in parliament. What they say will not be the least bit helpful and will simply demonise these people, whilst turning their backs on the good work David Stuart and his colleagues do every single day. Don’t be one of those people. See this with your eyes wide open.

Excess Flesh (2016)

Jill (Bethany Orr) is average in every way from her height, her looks to her weight. There’s a chance that Jill could live a fairly average life, free from drama, if it wasn’t for her flatmate Jennifer (Mary Loveless). Jennifer works in the fashion industry; she’s hot, she’s sexy and she can eat whatever she wants without putting on weight. Jill idolises her and she knows it, calling out Jennifer on the slightest things and immediately apologising and bending the frumpy flatmate to her will. When Jennifer’s putdowns become too much, Jill snaps and holds the model hostage, putting her through a series of humiliating exercises centred around her eating and good looks.

This feature length debut from Patrick Kennelly follows in the same footprints of Jimmy Webber’s Eat; being a body horror that hangs its narrative off eating disorders and the people who develop them through trying to establish some sort of control. Jill gorges on pop tarts and corn chips, much like Jennifer. Both women purge themselves of their ‘sins’ through vomiting, and yet it is Jill who always comes out the worst. Jennifer gets the men she wants, she gets the clothes she wants, she has the friends she wants. Jill’s trophy cabinet includes a nosey neighbour, and a potential lover who scurries off between Jennifer’s legs eventually.

It’s a common complaint that women are bombarded with perfection on a daily/weekly/minute-to-minute basis by images hawking the ‘perfect’ look. Jennifer is a personification of this trend, screaming and spitting in Jill’s face constantly to fornicate off but also be her friend. The metaphor is obvious but Kennelly doesn’t seem to want to hide behind symbolism. He wants you to understand in simple terms where he’s coming from and his eventual destination. At least, he does at the beginning. After a deliberately slow start that allows the viewer to settle down into the world of Jill and Jennifer, with it’s parties, sex and burritos filled with corn chips, Kennelly leads them into a room where food is god and the believer’s flesh is weak.

This is a very angry film that vomits flames at society. Through stylised camerawork and lighting, Kennelly’s paints a world where consumption of all kinds is the key to happiness. Witness Jill vomiting in slow motion before ending in a moment of orgasmic pleasure. Listen as Kennelly ramps up the sound so you hear every bite of red velvet cake. It’s a horrific blend of sight and sound. And yet, at times, the film gets too caught up in its own vitriol and the narrative drag at times. It’s a minor complaint, but Excess Flesh could do with losing the occasional dream sequence to speed things along.

Excess Flesh is a fetid example of body horror; whose message is obvious but it’s intentions are good. It’s squalid and vicious and guaranteed to make you feel nauseous. If you’ve ever watched Girls and prayed there would be an episode when Hannah finally snapped, this is that episode.