The DIY provocation Felt belongs to a tradition of metaphorically loaded feminist art/horror films, like Teeth and Ms. 45, that answer violation with violence. But for much of its slender running time, the film denies the genre kick of its predecessors, choosing instead to mirror its protagonist’s interest in turning her personal traumas into conceptual art. Just as its main character experiments with a bizarre superhero costume to work through her own confusion and anger over rape culture, so does the film, which rejects narrative demands in order to stay right with her and study her process. It’s a bold tack by director Jason Banker and his co-writer/star Amy Everson, because it immediately threatens to relegate the film to an intellectual exercise, like a companion piece to Everson’s Daily Beast essay about exploring gender and masculinity onscreen. But Felt gains clarity as Amy gains a clearer sense of purpose, and Banker and Everson have the courage to follow their outré vision all the way off the cliff.
Though Felt drifts back in time to capture the lead-up to Amy’s rape, it focuses on her erratic behavior in the aftermath, from tense conversations with her friends where they entertain revenge fantasies to solitary sessions in the woods, where she finds a private, creative outlet for her feelings. Donning a flesh-colored body suit with a burlap mask and a prosthetic penis, Amy wanders through the trees like a predatory animal, sometimes with wooden sword in hand, gaining power from the gender reversal. The film sharpens when Amy meets Kenny (Kentucker Audley) at a bar, and his earnestness lowers her defenses to the point where she accepts his romantic overtures. But is he too good to be true? Because with trust comes a dangerous vulnerability.
Too much of Felt is given over to wheel-spinning, whether in seemingly improvised dialogue scenes in bars, at a photo shoot, or in Amy tooling around in the woods. Banker and Everson rely too much on the concept to carry the film through, and it’s not until Audley comes into the picture that it picks up any kind of dramatic complexity and momentum. The extent of Amy’s psychological wounds—and the extent of the male threat, too—cannot be known until they’re tested, which gives her scenes with Kenny a tension the film doesn’t generate without that opposing force. Kenny’s sensitivity toward Amy naturally stokes some suspicion over when the other shoe is going to drop, and once it does, Felt goes to startling extremes. But the film’s alignment with Amy’s perspective is accompanied by some ambiguity about the rightness of her actions. The payoff may be predictable, but Banker and Everson are refreshingly unclear about how they—and viewers—feel about it. They just stay true to their protagonist’s feelings, see their premise through to the end, and leave it others to sort out. For a thesis-statement of a movie, that’s the riskiest possible conclusion.