Review first published by Vérité
“My life is a fuckin’ nightmare,” says Amy (the astonishing Amy Everson) in voice-over at the beginning of Jason Toad Road Banker’s Felt, as she sits at home, visibly upset, before donning a one-piece green lizard costume of her own making and venturing out into the street. “Every waking moment, every time I close my eyes, I just relive the trauma. I’m never safe. And I can’t even tell what’s real anymore.”
This is the first and last time her voice-over will appear in the film, carefully establishing a damaged interior that is not always so apparent in the brash, aggressively quirky exterior that she shows to others. Yet Amy bears deep emotional scars that we infer – without ever quite being told – have been inflicted by sexual abuse and rape going back to her childhood. Arrested and unable to break free from her wounded state, she tries to claw back some control though fantasy, ‘dress-up’ and art.
So it is that Amy’s collection of dolls and other toys (both infant and adult) has been reconfigured into disturbing sexual tableaux in her bedroom. So it is that when she is not earning money dressed as a chicken to advertise a restaurant’s fare, she painstakingly fashions her own special outfits at home from a range of materials for semi-private exercises in role play and would-be catharsis. And so it is that she regularly discusses with (female) friends her plans for male genital mutilation and murder sprees. The question of whether she is joking or serious brings to Felt a palpable tension.
This conflict between what is real and what is fiction is woven through the very texture of Felt, which offers up in an observational style (that could almost be called ‘documentary’) aspects of Everson’s own life and past (not to mention the extraordinary costumes that she makes), while also incorporating elements of horror. Amy is set up as a real person (not unlike the actor who plays her and shares her name), but also as the heroine of a rape-revenge movie—and viewers are left to negotiate the difference in this game of identities, and to experience for themselves something of Amy’s own dissociative experience.
In the first half of Felt, we see Amy struggling through social or dating encounters with a range of men who casually introduce the language of rape into their banter, or express their gendered dominance and arrogance in other ways. The second half traces her evolving relationship with Kenny (Kentucker Audley), an unusually sensitive, respectful man who drifts into Amy’s orbit and becomes like ‘one of the girls’, promising the possibility of a new life—until a simple act of betrayal triggers something primal in Amy.
Much of the film’s focus is on the blurred lines between the sexes, as Amy, through cosplay (and shamelessly vigorous farting), makes a performance of anatomy and biological function. “Everything is qualified”, Amy complains of her status as a woman, “by the fact that you don’t have a dick”, which drives her to dress in a man suit in her alone time, complete with stubbly mask and pendulous phallus, to feel for herself how the other half lives. She also, at a pornographic photoshoot, dons prosthetic breasts and a graphically crocheted pair of vulva pants as “a celebration of the female figure.” And yet it is male genitalia that are her principal preoccupation, leading to a horrifying climax, part triumph part tragedy, stitched together from the transgressive offcuts of Sleepaway Camp, Nekromantik 2, May and Julia.
Whenever she goes a-walking into the woods, Amy wears a red hoodie like the well-known figure from fairytale—but she proves as good at cross-dressing in the Other’s costume as any antagonistic wolf in a grandma guise, blurring the line between man and woman, predator and victim. The gender divide that Felt shears is reflected in the fact that it has been co-written by Banker and Everson, collaborating to craft a work that can be worn interchangeably by male and female alike. It may well prove an uncomfortable fit for either sex, but is all the better for that. A dreamy, lyrical film that is also a nightmare, Felt proves that hell hath no fury like a man-woman scorned, while also advertising the fleshy realities beneath its hand-crafted fabric.