LFO: The Movie

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 02/13/14 10:25:17

"Works even when the audience isn't highly suggestible."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2014 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL: Go to enough film festivals catering to niche tastes or dedicated to spotlighting new filmmakers at the very start of their careers, and you will see plenty of movies shot with a small cast and crew in and around one house as they try to build a feature people will want to see out of next to nothing. It's a tough gig, especially if you've got bigger ambitions than a domestic drama. Antonio Tublen manages it pretty well in "LFO", which is very much on the odd side but also quite entertaining.

The house it's set in is that of Robert (Patrik Karlson), a sound engineer not quite ready to let go of his late wife Clara (Ahna Rasch). While fiddling around with the equipment in his basement, he discovers as frequency that causes the human body mind to go to a state of extreme relaxation, which has the side effect of making a person extremely - nay, completely - suggestible. And while Robert initially uses this for self- improvement, he soon sets his sights on his pretty new neighbor Linn (Johanna Tschig) and her husband Simon (Per Löfberg). And after testing this on them, who knows what he could do?

Quite a bit, actually; Tublen doesn't waste a lot of time before establishing something closer to amorality in his main character, and quite possibly insanity as well. It's a path that must be tread fairly carefully; making Robert into a simple villain wouldn't be very interesting. Instead, we get a man who is as pathetic as he is potentially powerful, and it soon enough becomes clear that the sorry can go in almost any direction; the ethical constraints that are presumed in most stories may not be absent, but they are unusually weak.

This leads to a number of things, but when you combine it with the low-frequency oscillation of the title, it means the characters are exceptionally malleable, and neither Tublen nor Robert is going to back away from this in particular horror. It both short circuits the idea that the only way to really make some sort of change in oneself and others is through hard work and shortcuts past the in-story maneuvering necessary to get characters to what the movie needs them to be. Robert is powerful within this constricted world (although he's rather lacking in imagination much of the time) and can use Linn and Simon as puppets or even make them behave as different people, and that's the reality of the situation without a lot of hand-wringing. Events change people, and LFO uses its science-fictional premise to exaggerate this.

The compact cast does a pretty fair job of selling all this, too. Patrtik Karlson is on-screen for close to the entire film as Robert, and his job is in many ways the opposite of what it might usually be, seeming to get the audience inside Robert's head while actually keeping it at arm's length; he can be funny, angry, pathetic, arrogant, or any number of things one can recognize and react to, but actual connection is difficult by design. Johanna Tschig and Per Löfberg, meanwhile, do something kind of neat with roles that change to meet the story's needs by design rather than bad writing, often finding a way to get across that Linn and Simon are not out of character because they believe in this reality 100% while still playing off how unnatural what they're doing is. Meanwhile, Ahna Rasch is often punching a scene up as Robert's sarcastic, angry conscience.

There are a few other characters who pop up, but that's the core. The action is similarly contained; while things do happen outside of Robert's house, the camera never actually leaves the building, something that's occasionally awkward but does tend to be a useful choice. It does become a little too constraining at times, as Tublen gives the movie an episodic structure that occasionally backtracks in order to repeat itself because there are just so many ways to arrange things. He and his crew do make LFO look and sound nice, especially in comparison to many films made with such limited resources: Visuals are crisp, clear, and well-lit, even when looking out a window; homemade inventions look like something assembled with some care rather than whatever random props the filmmakers could get their hands on; sound cues are distinctive enough to serve as a punchline without seeming unnatural.

It's not quite a movie one would describe as slick, and it stumbles a bit at the ending, but it's fairly smooth for this sort of low-budget, location-bound film. It's a neat little picture, a bit peculiar but not something that had to trade production values for being one of a kind.

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