Directed by Jason Banker
As is standard when discussing social justice now, I’d best start by disclosing that I’m a cishet white male. Furthermore, I appreciate that this fact alone accrues me certain social and economic privileges. Plus importantly, thanks to my gender I’ve rarely been subject to routine acts of the aggression, objectification and condescension known as everyday sexism. This exploration of ingrained discrimination is core to Felt, as it’s from this modern feminist perspective that director Jason Banker subverts standard horror forms to create the first rape-culture/ revenge piece. As with his debut Toad Road, Banker has produced a movie where the lines between fact and fiction are heavily blurred. At the centre of this innovative piece of cinema is a vulnerable central performance that grows from a very genuine place. Here artist Amy Everson plays an exaggerated version of herself in an intimate character study where much of the content has been fuelled by heavily improvised reconstructions of her life. The documentary aesthetic makes it feel like we are given unfettered and unfiltered access to her, with the result being an often slow, but naturalistic and extremely powerful piece.
From the opening words ‘my life is a fucking nightmare’ it’s clear this isn’t going to be an upbeat romp. We join Amy as she struggles to cope with a vague (but clearly sexual) trauma that underlies her every thought and infiltrates her dreams. In response she has been retreats into her art. Along with the décor of felt-made penises that line her walls, and little baby Hitler models, she creates body suits with male and female genitalia which she wears beneath her normal clothes as a means to reclaim what was taken from her. With this she also carries a mask, made from stockings, that has a male face crudely scrawled across the side that’s hinted to resemble that of her attacker. The scenes where she dons these costumes in the forest (and a photoshoot) are hazy and dream-like, being equally tender and haunting thanks to a wonderfully melodic score by the band Deaf Center. The iconography during these scenes is stirring and whilst we are never really expected to get why she does it, the important thing is we accept it.
Acceptance is really at the heart of this movie. Lately her friends have been trying to help her come to terms with her abuse and attempt to return her to the world via a mix of partying and prayers. Unfortunately she’s not ready, regressing and acting out in equally infuriating and heart-breaking ways. It’s the extreme polarities of aggression and charm, often displayed simultaneously, that keep her such an engaging protagonist. Along the way she meets a number of different men who quickly dismiss her or are dismissed by her. However, her luck appears to change when she all too quickly falls in love with ‘nice guy’ Kenny (Audler) who appears to compliment her in every way. Their mumbled and small-scale scenes appear to offer a real opportunity for change, and though they are often very awkward we also see her extremely happy. In a new relationship there exists the potential for both parties to heal old wounds or form new ones. Alas, with this review being on a horror site you can probably guess which direction it goes . Which is upsetting, as you’ll so want to see the emotionally fragile Amy end the film happier than she was at the start.
It’s difficult to say much more without ruining a film that really should be experienced blindly. Though while the terror tropes are sparsely distributed, with much of the violence coming through dialogue, there’s a brutal and disturbing conclusion. Yet Felt is not going to be remembered as a relentless scare-fest. Rather it is an adept attempt to take on issues that are all too often ignored by a genre commonly aligned with misogyny. As muted and insidious forms of sexual violence are increasingly recognized and scrutinized my mainstream thought, horror will need to adapt with the times. This means ditching the sensationalism with which rape is usually explored by the genre, in order to look at a more mundane form of psychosexual threat. Banker has taken the first stab at it, and the cut is a deep one that, like it’s subject, should not be ignored.