If there’s one objective statement to make about Felt, the third film by Jason Banker, it’s that it’ll make you deeply uncomfortable. Felt is easier to admire than to straight-up love, a symptom of the ways it uses unease as a tool for setting atmosphere and tone. But whether we like or dislike movies like it is ultimately irrelevant compared to the responses they induce in their audiences. So consider this a guarantee: You won’t walk away from Felt unmoved.
Take that as a warning, too. Banker and his collaborator, writer-star Amy Everson, regard their joint, jarring artistic effort in the way the hunter regards their rifle. They patiently hold their sights steady with their fingers off the trigger until the last possible moment. Belaboring the metaphor further might constitute a spoiler, but you don’t need to rub more than a couple brain cells together to figure out where Felt is heading from its first few minutes. Banker and Everson have creativity, resourcefulness, and human insight to spare, but they write their film into a corner and leave themselves only one logical conclusion.
Maybe that’s the goal. Maybe, with Felt, Banker and Everson are suggesting that rape culture can only produce a certain range of reactions and over time culminate in specific outcomes. Neither inevitability is pretty, of course, but Felt doesn’t aspire to be a pretty film. It’s the kind of D.I.Y. production whose scrappiness and rough edges engender immediate fondness as much as the subject matter invites our sensitivity. The film’s lead is Amy (Everson), a young woman recovering from an unspoken trauma through her art. Felt’s title refers as much to her cloth-born recreations of human genitalia as it does to the emotions she wrestles with every day as she tries to move forward—from what, we’re unsure, but we can pretty confidently make an educated guess.
Amy tries to temper her anguish by hanging out with her roommate, Elizabeth (Elisabeth Ferrara), and, eventually, Roxanne (Roxanne Knouse), a model with her own animus to deal with. Amy, Elizabeth, and Roxanne each represent a pillar of violated womanhood: Amy’s issues drive much of Felt’s plot, while Elizabeth’s attachment to a man who treats both her and Amy with naked contempt, and Roxanne’s disdain toward all things male, paint a portrait of the female spirit caught in the vice of patriarchy. Elizabeth makes moves to help Amy through her suffering. Roxanne, meanwhile, offers a validating outlet for Amy’s transgressive feelings toward the male element. Amy doesn’t just make fabric vaginas: She has an entire man-suit, complete with an accompanying, dangling member, that she dons alone in the woods where no one can see her.
The suit is her way of reclaiming lost power, and the images of Everson, dressed head-to-toe in her horrific mimicry of the masculine form, are Felt’s most affecting. How does a woman who has had so much of herself taken away by male transgression reclaim her personhood? The film doesn’t get explicit about Amy’s past, though it comes close: “Everything is qualified by the fact that you don’t have a dick, or that just because you’re a girl gives men the right to grope you, or fondle you, or do what they want, because they’re fucking selfish and exploitative,” she says around 50 minutes in as she stabs a needle into a textile penis. It’s unclear how much of the dialogue Everson writes from experience, but it leaves a cold feeling in the gut to hear her torment put into words this blunt, unpoetic, and true.
Amy makes her speech to Kenny (Kentucker Audley), the rare positive manly presence in Felt and, for a time, the person best capable of walking her toward the light at the end of the tunnel. Unsurprisingly, it turns out he may or may not be hiding something from her. Even less surprising, we learn about Kenny’s secrets thanks to Roxanne, hell-bent on keeping him and Amy apart. There’s wonderful ambiguity to be mined out of the love triangle here, but Felt can only head toward the foreordained climax it predicts for itself early on. That’s the film’s biggest shame: There’s no sense of mystery here, or even a sense of drama. We know where the through line is taking us. What would Felt look like with a fleshed-out script and enough time to do it justice? We’ll never know, but even as a rough draft, the film’s unmasked empathy and dazzling grotesqueries linger long after the credits roll—and maybe that’s enough.
Director: Jason Banker
Writers: Jason Banker, Amy Everson
Starring: Amy Everson, Kentucker Audley, Elisabeth Ferrara, Roxanne Knouse, Merkley, Ryan Creighton
Release Date: June 26, 2015 (theatrical); July 21, 2015 (VOD)
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has been scribbling for Paste Magazine since 2013. He also contributes to Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Badass Digest. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65 percent Vermont craft brews.