Ever since starting school in Milwaukee, and with the MKE Film Festival kicking off proper, I have been exposed to far more indie films in one month than I have in my whole lifetime. The cinema at the student union even screens some of these films, and one such film that caught my attention was Felt. The trailer for it was dark, disturbing, and had a keen sense for the What the hell is this going to be? It looked like the perfect balance of creepy psychological storytelling and bizarre and memorable visuals.
Basically: I really wanted to like Felt. But I didn’t.
Written and directed by Jason Banker, the film tells the story of Amy, a young woman who is suffering from the trauma of sexual abuse. Rapidly losing her grip on reality, she creates a bizarre alter ego for herself, in which she appears as an avenging superhero in our rape culture-soaked world. However, when Amy meets Kenny, a sensitive young man who isn’t looking for a one night stand or to take advantage of her, she appears to be reborn. But is it all for nothing?
I want to start this review by stating that the topic of rape and sexual violence is not a laughing matter in any circumstance. Though I have a negative opinion towards the film, Felt does an excellent job at portraying the crippling emotional and physical effects of such violence. The film is raw, gritty, and makes you feel uncomfortable. The most powerful and moving moment of the film is when Amy explains what it’s like to be a woman, constantly objectified by men and the media and constantly living in fear. It was a deep and well written scene that is the only true look into Amy’s character.
Unfortunately, that’s where my praises for the film end.
While Felt does a fantastic job with the aftermath of rape, there is no true development or exposition leading up to the event. We are dropped into this world with an already traumatized Amy and we are given no time to get to know her outside of her impending insanity. This leads to my biggest problem with the film: I did not care for any of the characters. Amy as a whole is a thoroughly unlikable character. Now, I claim to be no expert on trauma and I know the shocking reality that not many victims of abuse come forward due to personal shame or anything else, but nothing about Amy’s insanity makes sense. I can understand her desire to want to appear unattractive to men living in our culture, but the idea of the “alter ego” seemed like a contrived and forced movie method of depicting an insane character. Maybe the film could have been salvaged if we got to know Amy before the rape, but on its own it’s hard for me to identify with her.
Outside of Amy, none of the characters felt real. Her friends are unlikable and treat her trauma more like an inconvenience instead of actively trying to get her help and all of the men in the film (excluding Kenny) are flat, one note misogynistic males who are cardboard cut out caricatures. Kenny is just as bland and uninteresting, appearing as a stereotypical white knight in this cruel world, leading me to not give a damn about his eventual betrayal.
The film’s overarching message just feels exploitative. Now, I don’t mean exploitative in the way of exploitation films, those campy grindhouse films of the 70s and 80s. This film deals with a very dark subject matter, and it’s doing everything in its power to make you realize it. It’s almost like the film is begging you to be shocked and appalled just for the sake of it. The visuals are haunting and the cinematography frames it well, but it just makes you wish the story was better and not a simple mess tangled in typical arthouse malarky. And for a topic which should be inspiring women dealing with such problems to find help and reach out, for the film to resolve itself by saying “Well, I guess she’s insane forever” felt like a slap in the face for sitting through the whole thing.
God, I wanted to like Felt. But for a film dealing with such a serious subject matter to wrap it up with unbelievable and flat characters in a situation that felt phoney just left a very sour taste in my mouth. The film’s exploitative nature and sheer want to be shocking just to be shocking legitimately made me angry, and it’s one of the first films I’ve seen in a long while that I simply cannot recommend.
(Title image via).