There are some striking visual and stylistic choices in Pedro C. Alonso’s feature debut, Feedback, along with an attempt to provide a metaphor for news media’s post-truth age. However, the film’s message gets somewhat lost in characterisation choices that are confusing at best and troubling at worst.
Eddie Marsan leads as London-based radio DJ Jarvis Dolan, host of The Grim Reality, a show based around the provocative nature of probing the political classes and the elite. When broadcasting late one night, Dolan’s studio is invaded by two masked assailants who take his producer hostage. Their goal is to have him and his co-host, Andrew (Paul Anderson), admit to their supposed role in a rape and disappearance in Belfast. What ensues is Jarvis balancing attempts to get an upper hand on his captors, equivocation around his role in the inciting incident and driving a wedge between his attackers’ objectives.
Feedback’s setting is contained, as the entire story takes place within Jarvis’ studio and some surrounding corridors high up in one of modern London’s steel and glass monuments to corporate excess. There is a clarity of horror that comes from the extreme violence — both physical and psychological — taking place under the harsh glare of fluorescent lighting. The brutality in Feedback doesn’t take place in shadows and dusty corners. In the absence of showing the outside reaction to the broadcast (beyond an illegible tweet-stream), the lighting metaphorically makes the point that there is nowhere to hide. Feedback also sets up an intriguing space for violent action later on with an anechoic chamber. The deadening silence is recreated technically extremely well, but it is questionable whether this more original angle could’ve been used more effectively in the storyline. Across the film, however, spaces and their acoustic nature are generally used creatively, mainly to provide an asymmetrical awareness across different subsets of the characters.
The more dimly lit corners of the setting, such as the darkened production desks behind soundproof glass or the studio ante-chamber bathed in a deep red light, recall Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio. Feedback, however, is more interested in producing a commentary than that effectively simple exercise in unsettling the viewer. This aspect is where the film becomes more confused in its approach.
Feedback positions the loved ones of a rape victim, and another rape victim herself, as villains in the initial stretch of the film. They commit violent acts against not only their targets — Jarvis and Andrew — but also innocent bystanders. Jarvis is then repositioned as he begins to unveil a full range of tricks to evade any responsibility he might have: lying, deflecting, gaslighting, manipulating opponents against each other. In a metaphorical sense, the thematic objective seems fairly clear and effective: Jarvis’ behavior serves as an example of how modern public figures get away with reprehensible acts through blatant falsehoods (Donald Trump is even explicitly name-checked in the epilogue). In a literal sense, however, Feedback has taken a victim and then used her as a vehicle for a retribution that is itself reprehensible, using that victimhood as a plot device. Even the metaphorical message is arguably muddled by this, as Jarvis’ Machiavellian manipulations become something reactionary rather than part of proactive scheme to further himself.
From a technical perspective, Feedback is extremely potent for long stretches. However, in aspiring to be relevant to current affairs, the film eschews effective simplicity for confused complexity.
Jim Ross (@JimGR) is a film critic and film journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is the Managing Editor and co-founder of TAKE ONE Magazine, which began as the official review publication of the Cambridge Film Festival and now covers film festivals and independent film worldwide. Jim hosted a fortnightly film radio show on Cambridge 105FM from 2011-2013 and joined the crew of Cinetopia, on Edinburgh community radio EH-FM, in 2019.