It seems like a decent way to prevent crime is to keep tabs on anyone who purchases a Halloween mask outside the month of October. From that purchase, it’s easy to extrapolate that this person might very well rob a gas station, hold someone hostage, or lurk outside a bedroom window in the midnight hours. I bring this up because two Party City customers are the ones who instigate the events of Feedback, directed by Pedro C. Alonso.
While these masked men could have wandered over from a thousand other movie sets, the circumstances of their assault are more unusual than their getup. Jarvis Dolan (Eddie Marsan) is a talk radio personality, shoehorning his blunt, snobbish opinions into listeners’ ears like wet willies. He’s the kind of political commentator who is more entertainer than intellectual, more combative than curious.
His public persona and outrageous claims have gotten him into trouble before, as is evident by a scar on his forehead. However, he’s still less than prepared when the masked men hijack his radio station during the middle of a broadcast. One has a sledgehammer, and the other has a shotgun. Demands come fast, unpleasantries are exchanged, and things get rough for our man, Jarvis.
“…the masked men hijack his radio station during the middle of a broadcast.”
As these events play out, Feedback proves there’s still a lot of wiggle room in those old thriller tropes. Part of it is the setting: a recording studio that looks like the inside of a cozy UFO. Everything is conservatively lighted and enclosed by a curved, crinkled, circular wall—as places to be held against your will go, this one’s pretty good. Along with the control room, musician room, and the tiny transitional room, Alonso makes great use of this space as variables are repositioned continuously from one place to another, changing the temperature of the tension.
Whereas most thrillers bank on archetypes to quickly get the audience settled in, Jarvis is more slippery than that. You’re never sure whether you’re supposed to like him or not, which is a good place for a character to be. When some information about him comes to light, even that is mired in uncertainty. There’s a kind of moral confusion that goes blow for blow with the anxiety of the hostage situation, so not only are you off-balance, but your perspective keeps changing, so you are genuinely disoriented; in a fun, engaging way, of course.
Marsan gets points for selling Jarvis as a fragile bag of flesh and feelings, while still keeping him distant enough to shroud his real character, whatever that may be. He’s a scumbag, a lovable scumbag, a run-of-the-mill unlovable scumbag, and he’s a misunderstood semi-likable scumbag. Who the hell knows?
If the thriller genre was a suburban home on a breezy Sunday night, then Feedback found a new way in without waking the dog. Alonso has made a movie of unyielding stress, both of the bone-breaking and psychological varieties. A few salacious revelations and the odd sledgehammer to the fingers are all the movies owe us, anyway.