“Felt” is a different and daring but not quite satisfying indie about the effects of sexual trauma, highlighted by an engrossing lead performance.
Part serious psychodrama and part turn-the-tables thriller, the film (screening at the Roxie) is directed docu-style with a tinge of the gothic by Jason Banker (“Toad Road”). Banker shares screenwriter credits with leading lady Amy Everson, whose life and artistic process inspired some of the story.
Everson plays Amy, a young San Francisco artist. To pay the rent, Amy stands on the street in a chicken costume, drawing people into a fast-food joint. At home, her bedroom abounds with dark and disturbing objects and handmade sexual toys, such as felt penises and a “fetal Hitler.”
Recovering from an unspecified trauma, Amy uses her art to cope and to comment on the misogynist culture around her – exemplified in part by the men she and best pal Alanna (Alanna Reynolds ) meet while double-dating.
Her latest project involves creating alter egos that give her a feeling of control. Dressed in body suits with exaggerated genitalia, she assumes various identities, including a male figure that aggressively roams the woods. Increasingly angry and outrageous, she alienates friends, driving herself deeper into a hostile, self-created world.
The picture brightens when Amy begins dating Kenny (Kentucker Audley), a thoughtful dreamboat she opens up to. But when she feels betrayed by him, her alter egos take hold, and the drama shifts toward full-blown horror.
Everson, who, in real life creates anatomically exaggerated costumes to comment on rape culture, is gripping on camera. Her statements on our male-driven society make Amy a credible and sympathetic protagonist, and, working in improvisational mode, Everson can be moving and funny.
A photo shoot where Amy, wearing a hand-sewn variation on the more traditional birthday suit required for a gig, does unladylike things on a flummoxed photographer’s bed, joined by another model (Roxanne Lauren Knouse), stands out. A night on the town with Kenny, meanwhile, is surprisingly romantic.
But moments like those don’t happen often enough. The repeated sight of Amy’s male alter ego walking creepily in the woods becomes tiresome, and, despite Everson’s efforts, Amy doesn’t emerge as much more than a woman shattered and scorned.
When Amy pulls out a giant pair of scissors, it becomes obvious where things are heading, and when she appears in a red hoodie, her situation feels frustratingly trivialized. In the end, a story that might have been truly provocative or tragic winds up in ugly revenge territory.
Two and a half stars
Starring: Amy Everson, Kentucker Audley, Roxanne Lauren Knouse, Alanna Reynolds
Written by: Jason Banker, Amy Everson
Directed by: Jason Banker
Running time: 1 hour, 19 minutes
Note: Everson is slated to appear at 7 p.m. screenings July 10-11 at the Roxie.