‘Felt’ as a word suggests a soft, pleasant material used by grandmas to decoupage bags and hats. Something feminine. Childish, maybe. Unthreatening. However the provocative poster for Jason Banker’s controversial rape culture psychological thriller smashes that evocation form the onset, depicting a vertical view of a girl’s lips poking through nude material to give the impression of a vagina. It’s bold and unapologetic. There is nothing unthreatening about FELT.
“It’s a constant struggle and people don’t fucking get it.”
The rape that caused the trauma that Amy is suffering does not feature in the film. It is not just a documentary-style window into the fragmented life of a girl trying to piece it back together with the weird little trinkets and quirks that make her an interesting character, as some might read it. The point is that we are seeing the world through the eyes of someone who has fallen victim in the most dreaded way to a rape culture that is accepted as normal; going unnoticed; part of the wallpaper. She has been physically broken out of the social realm of formulaic boy-girl behaviour by her experience, unable to ignore the objectifying seeds planted in conversations anymore because she’s seen up close where they lead, and is consequently free-wheeling through post-abuse life as a disillusioned vigilante. What would happen if we decided to call out all the bits of culture, all the conversations, all the social activities and all the boyfriends-of-friends that objectified us? What if instead of swallowing the embarrassing moments and uncomfortable feelings we felt when objectified, we exposed them, rawly, and refused to be ashamed of our sex? What if we peeled off the wallpaper and wore it as clothing, so it couldn’t be ignored anymore?
The fact is, this lump of meat that we reside in is the only vessel for life we will ever have, and if it’s vandalised enough from the outside in, brutally violated beyond repair, how do you go on living in it? Amy has to fashion a new skin because she can’t bear her own. She becomes a make shift superhero (or anti-hero) by sewing a flesh coloured body suit endowed with a plastic phallus, leaping around the forest and contemplating deforming men with her best friend. But the difference is her friends are separated from her mania and disillusion because they haven’t been literally fucked by the sexist system as bad as she has. Although they empathise (because every girl can relate to that innate sexism feeling), they try to coach her out of her “crazy” ideas and back to a “normal” place. Why is leaping around in a body suit, playing at being a superhero, any more perverse than having your body prostituted publicly in social situations? This is the question Banker constantly comes back to. The visuals are extreme and shocking in order to expose the cracks. FELT is a bramble bush of reality-and-fiction crossing branches in that the star, Amy Everson, an artist who has never acted before, playing Amy, an artist, co-wrote the script with Banker based on real experiences in her life. Banker, although a seemingly strange choice to direct a feminist superhero movie, being a man, brings his cinematographer’s skills (see TOAD ROAD) and documentary style to the story to make it all look consistently beautiful with a washed-out, foggy texture. The bulk of the film focuses on social situations that, from Amy’s perspective, expose the casual objectification of her and her friends: a mate’s boyfriend who grabs her by the throat in anger at his dominance being tested; a date with a guy who jokes about girls lying about being roofied then raped to cover the fact that they’re sluts; a photographer looking for topless models; a bunch of drunk guys forcing alcohol down girls’ throats and the general air of control that exudes in the mixed group.
Everson is a dream in the fearless role, which leads her through the darkest tunnels of testing depression that are momentarily alleviated by a potentially nice new boyfriend but then piled on once more when his motives become murky. During an intimate moment with him in her bedroom she explains all the pieces of art she’s made, most of them penis models, lots of it fashioned from felt, and describes how just because women don’t have them they are immediately discredited and it’s “a constant struggle.” It is clear from the beginning that her obsession with objects (the opening montage of the toys she’s accumulated in her room effectively implies this right away) and with covering her face, be it with her hair, a painted sack, or a plastic bag, is a direct result of how she’s suffered at the hands of an object-obsessed world. Through the pain and obscenity and bleakness, objectification leading to isolation and extreme loneliness is the message that is driven home. Don’t expect to be shown a light at the end of the tunnel; FELT is a sewn-up circuit of pain without an antidote.