Feedback: A Tight Auditory Thriller

Quick PSA. For those of you who hate that Disney is monopolizing the film industry and eliminating independent movies… you’re allowed to buy tickets to independent movies. Shocking, I know. And as an added bonus, you might get the theater to yourself! Which had never happened to me before I saw this movie, but it was awesome!

Anyways… Feedback. It’s about a radio host named Jarvis (Eddie Marsan) who is held hostage during his program, and is instructed to carry on as if nothing’s wrong. Otherwise, he and the technicians will suffer. There’s no contact with the outside world: the broadcast is delayed by a few minutes, so if he cries for help, his captors will just edit it out. And it’s quickly established that they’ll follow through on their threats, so things get tense.

Stylistically, it’s similar to Grand Piano – in that one, a pianist must play every note correctly or he’ll be killed. They’re both psychological thrillers, with a minimal cast, in one setting, over the span of a few hours. And in both stories, the hook of ‘do your job without alerting anybody to the danger’ gradually develops into a tangled web of backstories and dark secrets.

In Feedback, that web is heavily MeToo-centric. But it does so through the lens of a post-truth world, in which ‘truth’ is dependent on what people demand it to be, not necessarily what’s ‘true’. Both of these themes work hand in hand to heighten the tension: Jarvis is accused of rape, but it’s ambiguous whether he’s at fault. His word versus hers. When is he being honest, and when is he lying to save himself? Are his captors misremembering or exaggerating? If so, is it because they sincerely believe he’s guilty, or because they want justice? And ultimately, whose life should be at stake?

Without getting into spoilers, the conclusion is messy (on several levels). But the epilogue offers sufficient closure for the audience – the truth is finally revealed without duress or pressure. And on top of that, it’s a satisfying, albeit predictable commentary on our obsession with sensational radio drama and a network’s eagerness to exploit it.

As interesting as the story is, and as good as the cast is (particularly Marsan)… it would be mostly forgettable if not for the sound design. The sound design may single-handedly save the movie from falling into obscurity. The level of creativity and attention to detail is stunning, and absolutely deserves recognition.

There’s hectic use of pre-recorded radio station tracks and clips. There are replays of conversations that happened only minutes earlier. There’s a comprehensive array of abrupt cuts and dampening effects, particularly in the dead room, where all the sound is muted (pictured above). There are crisp, graphic SFX for breaking glass/equipment/bodies, etc. And naturally, there are piercing uses of feedback that the captors use to keep Jarvis in line. All of these are layered perfectly and effortlessly, building a rich soundscape that tells the story better than the visuals.

While the film may not be a mass-appealing blockbuster, or an easy watch for the faint of stomach, it’s a gripping, immersive thriller. It’s intense, but not scary – which, not being a fan of horror movies, I appreciate. If nothing else, watch it for the sound experience. And for the possibility that you might be the only person in the theater.