Feedback (2019)

Feedback first published by SciFiNow

“Are we safe?”, asks the voice on the radio promo. “Could we commit a crime and get away with it?”

The feature debut of Pedro C. Alonso, which he co-wrote with Alberto Marini (Summer Camp, 2015), Feedback observes a near Aristotelian unity of time and place, unfolding almost entirely over the course of one evening in real time and in a single location. 

On this night, Radio DBO’s controversial truth-telling presenter – and loving father – Jarvis Dolan (Eddie Marsan, Heartless, on intense form) is due to share his massively popular talkback programme The Grim Reality with Andrew Wilde (Paul Anderson), his former regular sparring partner from back at the time when both were rapidly rising voices in radio. Yet when two violent masked intruders – one older and calm (Richard Brake, 31), the other a young hothead (Oliver Coppersmith) – burst into the station taking producer Anthony (Alexis Rodney) and his assistant Claire (Ivana Baquero, Pan’s Labyrinth) hostage, sober Jarvis and rock-n-roll Andrew will find themselves forced on air to relive another night, years ago, that had marked the end of their working relationship. 

The obvious reference point for all this is Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio (1988), based on its star Eric Bogosian’s 1987 play of the same name, and also bearing witness to the unravelling of a shock jock over a crucial night in his career. Certainly Feedback comes with a similar theatricality, from its claustrophobic setting (a labyrinth of recording booths, engineering studios, insulation crawlspaces and connecting passages conspicuously wallpapered with the carpet pattern from The Shining) to its inevitable talkiness (although the latter is regularly punctuated with acts of blunt brutality). Yet much as Bogosian’s play and Stone’s film were inspired by the 1984 assassination of radio host Alan Berg, Alonso’s film has its own, entirely contemporary resonances: the post-truth discourse and #MeToo movement of the Trump era (and Trump is expressly namechecked here, along with the real Marsan’s regular online talking point, Brexit). 

On his high-rating show, Jarvis claims fearlessly to expose the uncomfortable political verities that other media avoid – but when it comes to the details of his own life, he adopts a rather postmodern, subjectified attitude towards the whole notion of truth (“the truth in essence is not objective, because every event has as many versions as it does actors”), and seems unwilling to acknowledge that the personal – indeed his own personal – is also political. The title comes with a double-meaning, referring both to the audio feedback that occasionally floods the studio’s speakers, and to the constant live stream of e-mailed and tweeted responses that Jarvis reads out on his show. As some of those who call in prove to be closer to Jarvis than he first realises, and to have views on events that are rather more immediate and informed than the usual online chorus of free-associative kneejerk chatter, Jarvis’ increasingly evasive utterances about what precisely happened in a Belfast hotel room back in 2011 reveal a man of influence who feels fully entitled to cover his own tracks and to bamboozle his listeners with prevarications and half-truths. His persecutors may be relentless in their aggression and gratuitous in their revenge, but they are, unlike him, part of the great unheard, their stories about and accusations against such a powerful public figure falling on deaf ears – even when delivered through a platform with a mass audience.

So while there are enough cat-and-mouse thrills, siege tension and bludgeoning violence here to keep fans of conventional horror entertained, Feedback is also an allegory of the way that, even in this most mediated of ages when everyone has a voice, the rich and the privileged so often prove immune to the most grave of criminal charges. After all, in this era where one man credibly (and multiply) accused of sexual assault can become a Supreme Court judge while another who has boasted of abusing his fame to grab women “by the pussy”, and who has even been accused of paedophile rape, can still get to the world’s highest office, it seems that the successful white male élite can get away with anything, even murder. That is Feedback‘s grimmer reality and greater horror.

© Anton Bitel