Directed by Pedro C. Alonso
Feedback is one of the films I missed at FrightFest last year, in favour of the frankly fantastic Extracurricular. It was also one I heard next to nothing about, which was odd. Usually, the best or worst of the main screen movies have people talking about them days later, but it seemed to pass without much fuss at all. I asked a fellow reviewer, between films, if he liked it and he just shrugged. Nonetheless, there was something about director Pedro C. Alonso’s feature debut that appealed to me. I suspect it’s my preoccupation with small-scale horror, and things that take place in single locations. Here, it’s the DJ booth of a radio station, where we’re about to spend a late-night shift with Jarvis Dolan (Marsan): anti-establishment, outspoken and just a bit too arrogant. Think James O’Brien times two.
The contrast between the intimacy of his desk and the Apprentice-style City of London skyscraper porn is immediately arresting. Recently Dolan has had an incident, being kidnapped and beaten up by some angry Brexiteers, but this has made him even more determined to rattle some cages. Sensing this, the management has tried to pair him up with his old friend Andy (Anderson): an ageing punk rock cliché who thinks he’s “bigger than everyone”. However, if Dolan thought the Brexit mob was bad he’s in for something far worse tonight. As he struggles with his tech, some armed men pass the seemingly non-existent security at his radio station to take him and his crew hostage. Using a brief time-delay, that allows them to mask their threats, the masked strangers aim to make the hosts confess to a scandal that could destroy their lives and careers live on air. The only problem is Dolan seems to have no idea what they’re talking about.
As a thriller, Feedback is passable. It’s atmospheric, visually striking, and there are smattered moments of tension. These are mostly the, frustratingly few, scenes when Dolan struggles to keep his cool on air, knowing the slightest slip-up could cost him his life. More of the movie should have used this exciting conceit. There are also a couple of cat and mouse moments that were exciting, even if the chamber structure means they can’t go far. The few scenes of violence that we get also come with a visceral impact, even causing me to cover my eyes at least once. In part, this came from the usual sound design, that goes from moments of silence to aggressive blaring within seconds. My applause to the foley artist who has you feel the impact of every sound effect. It’s also a real testament to Marsan’s talent that he’s able to keep his loathsome character grounded, to some extent, in reality. To be fair, none of the cast is bad – although Paul Anderson could dial his piss and vinegar back by half. Richard Brake is another standout, being far more human here than his recent run-ins with Rob Zombie and telling his character’s doubts or rage facially. Still, try as they may, they aren’t able to elevate the muddled material to make you feel for their parts.
It’s as a piece of social commentary that Feedback fails the most. Without going too far into spoiler territory, there are attempts to address hot button topics that I think the film badly mishandles. Particularly where the villains’ motivations are concerned. Arguably, for asking us to invest in someone who becomes less relatable as it goes on, it gets points for testing audience identification. Especially given Dolan is held at gunpoint by people typically written as victims. However, I think the moral dilemma lacks the sort of sophistication necessary to do this kind of set-up justice. By turning a sensitive topic into a clichéd cycle of violence story, with lazy moral equivalency, it comes across as crass and unexpectedly pro-establishment. Maybe I’ve just been unlucky with the films I have seen lately, but this is a point I seem to find myself coming back to a lot. Genre flicks are a potentially excellent arena for exploring topical issues, and many manage it. Though sometimes it can be hard to do that while sticking to their staples. In this case, the audience has to be entertained so, aside from a few exchanges, the baddies are crudely reduced to angry extremists. Maybe it’s unfair that I’m harsher on this than other films that don’t even bother to characterise their threats, though the more serious the theme then the more critical it is to handle it with care.
Towards the end, in a throwaway line, a character asks “have you not learned your lesson yet?” Ironically, there’s barely one to speak of. Aside from those that die, nobody finishes the film notably different from how they began it. What modest a journey Doland has reaches the kind of resolution that’d work better in a more focused piece of satire, rather than being an oddly mean-spirited punchline to this. I praised Marsan’s performance above, and make no mistake – his quiet energy is something to behold. It’s just not enough to make him a sympathetic protagonist, and the lack of anyone to really care about makes the film ultimately unrewarding. No, Feedback is not a terrible film by any means. However, if anyone asks me what I make of it, and I don’t have this link handy, I’ll just do what my colleague did and shrug.
Feedback is available now on VOD.