“I’m never safe”
Today’s sexual climate needs a film like Felt to turn a mirror back. Whether it’s the long-hushed Quaalude-rape escapades of Bill Cosby finally coming to light or recent allegations pointed towards infamous party-boy and man-of-bad-decisions Patrick Kane, thinking the public can ignore society’s pervasive patriarchy and victim-blaming is dying. I won’t say it’s dead since who knows if that day will ever come. But sexual abuse is heading into the mainstream media to empower prey in seeking justice to ensure no one else gets hurt as well as to show predators how their misguided belief of entitlement to more than their target is willing to provide is false. What’s sad about this evolution is that it needs to happen at all. Common decency is so foreign that we need extremes to reveal the error of our ways.
A semi-autobiographical tale—the project began as a documentary of sorts with director Jason Banker following costume artist and Felt co-writer/star Amy Everson around—of coping against the all-consuming waking nightmare that is Amy’s life, the film’s nothing if not extreme. I’m talking about a broken woman so lost in depression that the heinous acts, of which no details are revealed, done to her prevent any physical contact from men. They’ve set her adrift from girlfriends as well, holing her up in her room amongst her artwork. One piece in particular is a set coined “naked man-and-woman suits”. While she flaunts the latter by augmenting her features to grotesquely exaggerated lengths, the former becomes her alter ego. Dressed in its tight-fitting fabric, she transforms into her oppressor. Five-o’clock shadow, penis, and all.
It’s a jarring sight to see her dead eyes and slack jaw when contained by its living metaphor. Even when she’s not quite ready for putting on a public persona, she still has a wry smile and piercing look of disapproval—emotion and expression completely erased when in the guise of Earth’s masculine ruling class. The commentary of this is hardly subtle with her warped superhero becoming an empty vessel devoid of empathy or compassion. Her friend Elizabeth (Elizabeth Ferrara) can’t stand to talk to her when wearing the suit: possibly due to the weirdness of the situation or perhaps because the caricature is too close to the alpha male persona boyfriend Tony (Tony Ruiz) exudes from every pore. Those around Amy yearn for her to be herself again without comprehending that memory may never return.
Unsurprisingly a man is introduced to finally breakthrough her hardened shell and coax out glimpses of “normalcy”. Kenny (Kentucker Audley) is a sensitive soul with the patience of a saint to wade within Amy’s unapologetically crass dialogue and dark humor. He was scorned by her during a night of jest only to be found via coincidence later on. They are good together—understanding, loving, non-judgmental. But if you’ve been watching even a second of what came before their romantic bliss you’ll know it’s too good to be true. The only way a man could feasibly get written into this psychological gender crucifixion as savior is to also supply him massive fall. Everson and Banker do just that and yet it isn’t he who necessarily tumbles. Guilt and remorse rise within Kenny, but so does vengeance in Amy.
Felt is definitely not for everyone and I’m talking beyond the copious penises—plastic, wool, or real. It exists within Amy’s mind and can be alienating or confusing at times as a result. To someone incapable of finding his/her bearing with the subject matter, she will merely seem an odd duck steeped in feminism that’s unafraid to wield a verbal ax of justice. It’s so much more than that, though, because this woman is acting from a place of defeat. Forced to endure the perils of being a woman in this male-domineering society has proven so impossibly painful that she’s literally begun dabbling in fictitious flights of fancy she admits are becoming too authentic to differentiate from reality. There’s a psychotic break occurring when Amy dons the “naked male suit” as whimsy makes way towards horror.
As a movie it’s not perfect, but as a concept and character study it’s quite stunning. Rushed to the point where periphery players solely pop up to service the plot, the proceedings get frustrating along its inevitable rabbit hole descent to hellish destruction. Roles like new friend Roxanne (Roxanne Knouse), an X-rated photographer (Merkley), or Amy’s disastrously insensitive internet date (Brendan Miller) are hyper-stylized almost to parody. This is too bad because Everson’s portrayal at the center is so complex. Between the baby talk, hushed whispers, defeatist demeanor, impulsive brashness, and cold silence, she’s always unpredictable and always scary to behold opposite surface innocence. Her past hasn’t stripped away her identity as a female; they’ve deleted her entire humanity. With one last betrayal she will be reborn into that which she despises most.
Everson is captivating to say the least and Audley does well playing Kenny much smaller and quieter to give the contrast of their slowly turning tables. Roles are reversed literally and figuratively for a shocking climax in its brutality rather than surprise. The road can be vague at times and overly blunt at others, but the over-arching not-so-thinly-veiled metaphoric air makes it so nuance is a tough commodity to salvage. Because Amy has re-appropriated sexuality to give form to what she’s feeling on the inside, we’re shown every thought manifested by costume. Eventually play-acting isn’t enough and the way to suppress the pain reveals itself to have been there all along. Power becomes violence, genitalia a signifier of superiority/inferiority. Jokes become omens and Amy’s escape arrives by dealing exactly what society too readily accepts.