Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"The film feels adrift in time." | Photo: Courtesy of FrightFest

Radio stars are a dying breed. Jarvis Dolan (Eddie Marsan) isn't too keen on letting anyone speed up that process. When the small station where he works is invaded by a masked gang who take colleagues - including his daughter - hostage, he's eager to make them happy so that he can survive and everything can go back to normal. The trouble is, he doesn't really know what they want - or does he?

The celebrity radio presenter seems a curious subject for a film set in the present day, but the small scale of radio makes the premise of Pedro C Alonso's feature d├ębut more believable and creates a sense of intimacy without which it would be a very different beast. One thinks, for instance, of Money Monster, but similarities to that and to Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa are purely superficial; the mood here is persistently dark. The two-room set-up in which most of the action is played out - a control room looking onto a studio with tinted glass that's difficult to see through from the studio side - makes it feel more like a stage play but gives it a claustrophobic atmosphere that adds to the mood of the story. When Jarvis is asked to interview a former colleague about things they did in the past, there are no flashbacks to bring relief; we are required to sit there and watch their faces and feel the pressure that they feel.

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Despite the absence of any overt comedy to lighten the mood, there's a strain of black humour in Alonso's script (written with Alberto Marini), which includes a lot of nicely observed radio patter and points up how that practised style of smooth, calming conversation can be used to make almost anything seem acceptable. At this level, the film works well, and it could have made a very good short. The trouble is that there really isn't enough plot to stretch over an hour and 37 minutes, and the moral dilemmas the plot goes on to introduce lack the sophistication to really challenge most viewers. Jarvis' character arc is predictable from the outset and despite shifts in the behaviour of other characters we don;t get the sense that anybody else really learns anything.

Perhaps that's part of Alonso's point. His prime focus seems to be on how individuals and wider society absorb awful things (as long as they're happening to other people) and quickly move on. This point is rather too heavily laboured towards the end, however, and it's unlikely to be a revelation to anyone. Again, the film feels adrift in time, and one wonders if the script is an old one that simply sat on the shelf for too long before it could be realised. The upshot is that it has little to contribute beyond familiar cynicism (and a bit of gore for those who relish that sort of thing), leaving it tonally flat and a lot less interesting than it might have been.

Reviewed on: 25 Aug 2019
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Masked men take the celebrity host of true crime show The Grim Reality hostage but he has no idea how to give them what they want - and then people start getting killed.

Director: Pedro C Alonso

Writer: Pedro C Alonso, Alberto Marini

Starring: Eddie Marsan, Paul Anderson, Ivana Baquero, Richard Brake

Year: 2018

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: Spain, US


Frightfest 2019

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