Fantastic Fest 2013 Review: LFO Tunes In Dark Comedy And Control Issues

Peter Martin, Managing Editor

I love minor keys, and the new Swedish film LFO is filled with them.

Deftly casting a spell with low-frequency hums, surging synthesizers, and enigmatic characters, it's immediately captivating, even though the setting is not immediately apparent. Initially it reminded me of Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio, in which a sound engineer is infected by the murderous atmosphere in an Italian studio where he works on horror movies.

But Antonio Tublen, who directed LFO from his own original script, has a very different kind of horror in mind. The film's sly, outrageous wit contributes to a jaunty atmosphere, creating an environment where, literally, anything goes. Robert Nord (Patrik Karlson) is the putative protagonist, a sad sack whose somber appearance -- uncombed hair, unshaven face, shirt unbuttoned at the top -- makes him resemble an office worker just home from a long day on the job. That impression belies the devilry at play in his mind. He has a stack of analog equipment in his basement, the type of electronic gear that emits burps and groans and all kinds of odd sounds. It's weird more than unsettling, akin to the sound of mating sperm whales in the deep blue ocean.

Speaking in sonorous tones, Robert researches and experiments. He claims to suffer from a self-diagnosed condition he calls a "sound allergy," and in his search online for a cure he meets a couple of fellow sufferers and then he makes a breakthrough. He believes he has located a frequency that can control certain human behavior, which might allow him to alleviate his condition. He is, of course, unwilling to experiment on himself, but his thoughts turn quickly to Linn (Johanna Tschig), a beautiful woman who has just moved in across the street with her husband Simon (Per Löfberg).

One evening, Robert invites the couple over for coffee, drops the conversational nugget that his wife and child were killed in an automobile accident, and then excuses himself to fetch milk. He places thick headphones over his ears, presses a button on a handheld remote control device, three musical tones sound, and then low-frequency music emits from two speakers.

And just like that, Robert can control them.

What Robert does with Linn and Simon plays out with lunatic charm, and also a kind of Dutch angle-logic, if one could possibly crawl inside his demented head. His view of the world and other human beings in general has been permanently skewed long before the film begins. Yet he appears to function normally, his placid surface barely rippling even as he experiences extreme emotions.

Patrik Karlson, Johanna Tschig, and Per Löfberg do a marvelous job, shifting gently from comic to dramatic to traumatic to enigmatic with not much more than subtle facial movements. Tublen and his collaborators make extremely creative use of space and situations to maximum effect, without resorting to visual flourishes that call attention to themselves.

The battle depicted in the film is almost entirely mental, a duel between cracked intellect and suppressed emotion. It makes the question personal: If you could control other people absolutely (without them knowing it), what would you do? Really? Think again. LFO is a diabolical joy to watch.

The film made its North American premiere at Fantastic Fest yesterday, and will screen again on Wednesday, September 25.

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