Tag Archives: mumblecore

A Different Kind of Avenger

Felt

by Hope Madden

Few among us have even heard of the film Felt, and those who have are misled. Packaged as a feminist superhero movie about rape culture, this film has less in common with rape/revenge fantasies like I Spit on Your Grave and American Mary and more in common with mumblecore.

This is a peculiar, intimate, meandering meditation on a single person’s struggle with trauma. The fact that Amy (co-writer Amy Everson) works through her problems by creating hyper-masculine costumes that she wears in the woods, accompanied only by her anger and her wooden sword, is really what sets Felt apart from other art films.

Director/co-writer Jason Banker’s camera is intimate and awkward, an ideal combination that mirrors Amy’s state of mind. There’s something uneasy in the quick edits, extreme close ups, and wandering visuals that suggests Amy’s perspective.

Recovering from an unspecified but clearly sexual trauma, Amy slowly deserts the socially accepted course of healing – those steps her friends keep urging her to take – instead filling her room with art that’s equally childish and grotesque, most of it phallic.

But it’s the costumes that seem to help Amy regain some measure of personal power, and the film’s strongest scenes are those in which she explores this empowerment. Whether she and her penis suit are scaling trees, or she wears her exaggerated vagina and breast outfit to upend a sexy photo session, the behavior is unpredictable, fascinating, and sometimes weirdly funny.

The scene with the photographer and new friend Roxanne (Roxanne Lauren Knouse) is a scream, and something truly unlike anything else in film. Roxanne immediately embraces what it is Amy is trying to do, which is why she’s disappointed when Amy does what her other friends see as healthy – gets a new boyfriend.

Kenny (Kentucker Audley) represents a gentle, patient soul willing to wait for Amy, but with trust comes vulnerability. There’s a circuitous nature to the sparse narrative. Traditional relationships find an echo later in the film, the second time with Amy in a position of power, but she is ill prepared to handle the shift.

The film boasts very little dialog, and as a curious onscreen presence, Everson is a master. At times, though, the lines delivered feel too obvious for the film itself, and in the end Everson and Banker fall back on behavior too predictable for the fractured fairy tale they’ve crafted. They do leave you unsettled, though. There’s no big hurrah, no sense of accomplishment, just more of the same maddening nightmare.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

Exposing Artistic Weakness … And Boobs

24 Exposures

by Hope Madden

There’s a tight collection of newcomer filmmakers who weave into and out of each other’s work, work that tends toward low budget horror, but flies in other directions as well. Writer/director/actor Joe Swanberg is a member, and 24 Exposures is his latest collaboration.

It’s easiest to see the group as a unit on both V/H/S films, each a compilation of horror shorts. Directors Ti West (The House of the Devil), Adam Wingard (You’re Next), Jason Eisner (Hobo with a Shotgun), Matt Bettinelli-Olpin (Devil’s Due) and Swanberg, among others, work as an artistic collective. One directs what another writes while the others act, then in the next effort, everyone swaps jobs. The results are sometimes surprisingly unique, vivid and worthwhile.

More often, though, they’re inexpensive riffs with little artistic payoff.

Much – though not all – of the group’s lesser-funded output suffers from a number of ailments: weak writing, amateurish cinematography and art direction, and, most frequently and obviously, feeble acting. This is perhaps because very, very few people are true talents at writing, directing and acting simultaneously, so this hodgepodge approach invariably uncovers shortcomings depending on which person is manning which responsibility.

Wisely, when Swanberg directed Drinking Buddies, he hired a cast of actual actors, worked with real producers (including the film’s star, Olivia Wilde), and hired a professional cinematographer (Beasts of the Southern Wild’s Ben Richardson – good thinking!).

24 Exposures is a return to Swanberg’s mumblecore roots. Unfortunately, the thin frame on which his actors improvise is too contrived for the naturalistic approach.

Swanberg’s thriller meanders through a budding friendship between a depressed homicide detective (Simon Barrett – who wrote You’re Next) and fetish photographer Billy (Wingard), whose work resembles crime scenes. That is, he photographs topless women posed to look like they’re dead.

The two come together when one of the fetish models winds up dead in a pose that could easily have been one of Billy’s.

The result feels more like an excuse for morbid fetishizing than a movie. The actors show no particular gift for improvising. Or acting. The film looks awful, fails to generate any tension, and basically showcases none of the skill Swanberg displayed with his last effort.

Real mumblecore films are often quite worth seeing (The Comedy, Computer Chess). 24 Exposures is just not one of them.

 

Verdict-2-0-Stars