LFO: Turin Review

Sonic brainwashing in suburban Sweden.

Swedish writer-director Antonio Tublén finds the right comic frequency in this witty sci-fi thriller about a mad scientist and his weapons of mass disruption.

The geeks aspire to inherit the Earth in this darkly funny Scandinavian sci-fi fable, which makes up in deadpan wit and wry social satire what it lacks in budget. With his second feature, the young Swedish writer-director Antonio Tublén explores superficially similar terrain to Peter Strickland’s cultish 2012 retro-thriller Berberian Sound System. But LFO is ultimately a more conventional work, with a familiar cautionary message about the corrupting effect of unchecked power and cutting-edge technology. Screened at the Turin film festival last week, it should find a keen following at future genre-friendly festivals, with clear commercial appeal among more cerebral sci-fi fans on both big and small screen.

Patrik Karlson stars as Robert Nord, a middle-aged misfit with a mad scientist’s lair beneath his suburban home in the form of an audio laboratory where he is testing the psychological effects of electronic sound – hence the film’s title, an acronym for “low frequency oscillation”. He initially seems like a harmless hobbyist, but Robert’s manipulative nature and fragile mental state slowly become more evident. The unfaithful ex-wife Clara (Ahnna Rasch) who nags him constantly turns out to be a ghost, or possibly a hallucinatory symptom of his lingering guilt over her suspicious death. When he accidentally discovers a method of instant brainwashing using subliminal sonic vibrations, his vengeful and vindictive urges find a natural outlet.

Seeking human lab rats for his experiments, Robert targets his attractive new neighbors Linn (Izabella Johanna Tschig) and Simon (Per Lofberg). Using sonic mind control to hypnotize Linn into finding him irresistible, he initiates an affair that shades into sleazy sexual exploitation. He then plants bugs in her house, unwittingly exposing Simon’s infidelity before passing himself off as an unorthodox marriage counselor. Intoxicated by power and its perks, Robert inevitably resolves to test his technological weapons on a broader public audience. The brief closing coda, told only in voiceover snippets of global news, pushes his brainwashing project to dystopian political extremes.

Shot in washed-out digital tones dominated by queasy yellows and muddy browns, and confined almost entirely to Robert’s house, LFO has the cramped domestic feel of a filmed stage farce, an aesthetic that sometimes feels too claustrophobic for the story. With a bigger budget, a broader cast and more locations, Tublén might have explored the script’s rich allegorical potential more thoroughly. Then again, a more expensive film could have ended up too neat and predictable, blunting the subversive charm of this witty little Scandi-noir parable. The director himself provides the musical background, a constant low hum of analog bleeps and rumbles that succeeds in sounding both soothing and sinister.

Production company: Pingpong Film

Producers: Alexander Brondsted, Fredric Ollerstam, Antonio Tublén

Starring: Patrik Karlson, Izabella Johanna Tschig, Per Lofberg, Ahnna Rasch

Director: Antonio Tublén

Writer: Antonio Tublén

Cinematographers: Alexander Brondsted, Linus Eklund

Editor: Antonio Tublén

Sound: Samir Dunas

Music: Antonio Tublén

Sales company: Pingpong Film

Unrated, 95 minutes