Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

‘Felt’ is a horror movie where the monster is rape culture

Official "Felt" Facebook Page
(Official “Felt” Facebook Page)

The rape-revenge film occupies a curious – and odious – place in feminist film criticism. Popular in the ‘70s, when second-wave feminism was at its height, the genre always seemed so close to a breakthrough in its examination of patriarchal paradigms. Yet time and time again, it fell short of its potential, and chose instead to revel in its exploitive nature as it perpetuated the ugly mentalities that it should have deconstructed.

What distinguishes “Felt” is that it is not so much a rape-revenge film as a rape culture-revenge film.

The 2014 film follows Amy (Amy Everson), an artist still in recovering from a past sexual assault. As she begins to unravel and her behavior grows increasingly erratic, she alienates her friends and loved ones. Her one outlet that she can find solace in lies in her provocative art, which experiments in identity and genderfluidity.

Amy’s art acts as a vessel to transport her outside of the discomfort of her own skin. She dons a felted “man-suit,” complete with a massive, fashioned-on penis and scrotum. In her hallowed sanctuary, she stalks the woods and mimics an angry, impotent predator. Through means both creative and grotesque, Amy aims to reclaim her own sense of power in the wake of her attack, and does so in a way that imitates the systems that led it to occur, and all the carnal savagery that the notion entails.

As the movie progresses, Amy grows more and more unhinged, and to watch her gradual mental disintegration is a deeply unsettling affair. Viewers feel their own sense of agency stripped away from them as they watch as Amy engages in escalating levels of self-harm. Violent, invasive cycles of violation happen over and over again and we are powerless to stop it. All we can do is spectate and feel complicit in this structural evil.

“Felt” is the type of movie that might provoke the misguided cry of “not all men.” Every man that Amy interacts with, to some extent, is creepy or condemnable. Whether they aggressively stalk her, objectify her through smarmy comments or betray their own entitlement when their false niceties fail to deceive her, all of them are born from the same poisonous system.

Given the fact that her artistic tendencies border dangerously close to the irritatingly quirky, Amy’s character could’ve become an annoyance in less capable hands. Her portrayal by Amy Everson – an artist in real life who designed the twisted genitalia accessories Amy wears – is nothing short of superb.

Everson, who co-wrote the script with director Jason Banker, carries a presence both powerful and vulnerable. “Magnetic” is an overused label for good acting, yet there are few better words to describe Everson’s performance. Possessed with a voice reminiscent of a knife as it scrapes a stone, she finds the pitch-perfect balance between intensity and charm, and finds strength even when she is at her most broken.

With masterful cinematography, “Felt” inverts traditional notions of the male gaze. In a beautiful, naturalistic style, the camera hovers over the sleazy figures that populate the various bars, restaurants and streets that Amy walks down. We see their ugliness and their chauvinism, and they become almost ape-like in their brutish simplicity. In summation, the camera objectifies the objectifers.

Hazy and uncomfortable, the film’s editing made me feel like I was lost in free-fall. Scenes flow from one to the next like a patchwork of disconnected memories stitched together as part of one of Amy’s art projects. Subjected to moments both creepily surreal and disarmingly phantasmagoric, a dream-like state of serenity threatens to take hold.

Nevertheless, any moment of calmness is counterbalanced by the deep sense of nausea that rests within the pits of our stomachs. Something nightmarish is about to happen, and the knowledge that this insidious kindle is about to explode only furthers the dread.

If there are missteps, they occur when Banker and Everson choose to veer away from subtlety. Toward the film’s conclusion, Amy delivers a lengthy monologue about the difficulties of being a woman in the modern world, where she must endure microaggressions and outright hostility.

It’s a fine speech, yet unnecessarily didactic. We already see how this misogynistic world operates through the film’s subtext. We see it in small body gestures and offhand remarks. The film’s masterful visual language enables it so that we understand Amy’s perspective without it having to be said outright, so to deliver the film’s thesis in this clunky manner seems a little superfluous.

Moreover, given the insurmountable tension that “Felt” creates, the climax feels a little too quick and clean. We know that something terrible is about happen, yet when the payoff takes place, Banker and Everson show too much restraint.

Still, “Felt” acts as a fascinating portrait of a type of all-too commonplace horror that rarely gets such a proper evisceration. It commits a violent critique of a toxic culture that manifests in ways both obvious and difficult to perceive.

Nate Taskin can be reached at [email protected].

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