Fantastic Fest Review: FELT Gives Rape Culture What It Deserves

An extraordinary movie anchored by an astonishing performance by a non-actor. 

It is possible that Felt is the first film in a new offshoot of the rape/revenge genre - rape culture/revenge. It is certain that Felt is a beautiful film from one of the most exciting new directors working today, anchored by an astonishing performance by an artist without any previous acting experience.

Director Jason Banker has a unique way of making movies. In both Felt and his debut, Toad Road, Becker follows real people around with his camera, getting into their lives and then creating a story within that. The result is something so completely naturalistic it’s not clear where reality ends and fiction begins. In the case of Felt Amy Everson, an artist, plays Amy, an artist, who has been suffering PTSD following an unexplained - but certainly sexual - trauma. Amy creates art that takes her out of her identity, fashioning masks and muscle suits and giant penises she wears, seemingly to reclaim the power taken from her by her unnamed attacker.

As the film opens Amy’s friends are trying to get her back into the world, and we follow her, almost vignette style, as she tries to interact with men, and we see how each man is, in his own way, a total fucking creep or asshole. When she meets Kenny, played by always-working indie movie mainstay Kentucky Audler, it seems like she’s finally found the right guy, but then again this is a movie playing at Fantastic Fest…

Felt could be described as a slow burn, but that would be ignoring the film’s true center, which is Everson herself. She’s in just about every single frame of the movie, and if she didn’t work - if she was as irritatingly quirky as an artist who makes felt penises might be - the film would collapse. But Everson is an astonishing presence, a woman who embodies the idea that we’re stronger in the places where we are broken. Everson is equal parts charming and dark, intense and silly, and the way she fiercely shares her fragility makes her a completely engaging protagonist. Everything about Everson, from her toy-strewn room to her voice, makes you love her.

Which makes her mental decay all the more unsettling. For much of its running time Felt could be just another 20something mumblecore relationship movie, but as the third act comes into focus Banker begins tightening the grip of suspense. We know something bad is going to happen, and that ugliness is constantly on the horizon. Banker infuses scenes with a quiet dread that becomes a thrumming fear by the end.

If I have one complaint about Felt it’s that I would have liked to see the ending go even bigger, and nastier. Maybe that’s just the jaded Fantastic Fester in me, but the climax feels too fast after the incredible build up. Still, it’s a minor complaint because Felt isn’t really about the act of violence at the end of the film, it’s about all the small, almost invisible acts of violence visited upon women every single day of their lives. 

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