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rochefort [Celluloid 09.25.13] Sweden scifi drama

In the new thinking man's sci-fi feature LFO, writer/director Antonio Tublen crafts the tale of Robert (Patrik Karlson), a homebody and "private enthusiast" who spends most of his time avoiding his fatigued, critical wife Clara (Ahnna Rasch) and developing peculiar audio experiments in his basement. When he discovers a frequency that gives him the power to make subliminal suggestions (more like demands, really) to anyone within earshot, Robert's inner scientist is awakened, and as his first test subjects he chooses his gorgeous new neighbor Linn (Johanna Tschig) and her husband Simon (Per Lofberg). What follows is not only an exercise in how to breathe new life into the Mad Scientist story, but also a smart, funny head trip so solidly crafted that it easily ranks among the best of this year's fest, and is one of the finest films of its kind I've seen in years.

Once his experiment begins in earnest Robert starts small, inviting Linn and Simon over for a quick drink, donning headphones and triggering his new found frequency through a basic tv remote controller. He then completely erases the couple's initial perceptions of this lonely but seemingly harmless shut-in with a quick series of verbal commands; seconds later, Simon is offering to do Robert's household chores and Linn is trying to conceal her freshly implanted desire to sleep with him. His initial success is so galvanizing that Robert grabs pen and notebook and commits to a long-term study, his commands running the gamut from oddly constructive to downright rapey and back again. And as Linn and Simon begin to show signs that the deep-reaching effects on their respective psyches are prompting emotional fractures and a crisis of identity, so does the truth of Robert's own mental state and motivations become clear.

It's no great mystery that the low-budget, close-quarters independent film is a kind of proving ground for new filmmakers. It's one thing to make a feature without ever leaving a house or a cabin in the woods; it's another thing entirely to make that movie interesting, and to really stand out from the crowd your script, cast and crew need to be firing on all cylinders, and that's absolutely the case here. LFO has the sort of juicy setup that lesser filmmakers might lean on too much to carry the film through multiple bits of padding and plot tangents, but here the super-tight script deftly avoids pretty much every trope and cliche of the mad scientist genre. Accomplishment enough, but even more impressive is how it does this with such a tiny cast, and in a single house, yet feels neither underpopulated nor claustrophobic. A subplot involving a potential competitor/blackmailer is handled in a manner that's both logical and unexpected, Linn's and Simon's story develops in an altogether surprising direction, and even Robert himself, who does some fairly nefarious things, is still astonishingly likable.

There's the rapey thing, obviously, and those are the moments where the comedy is darkest, but it's a testament to the script and the performances by Karlson and Tschig that we stop short of complete revulsion. There's a nice moment late in the film wherein Linn, who is essentially acting within a construct of Robert's own making, quietly rekindles his conscience without even realizing she's done so. And no, I have no illusions that I'm speaking for everyone, but if we're honest with ourselves I think most of us will have to admit the power that falls into Robert's lap is one many of us would struggle not to almost immediately abuse, and in this light Robert displays an admirable (okay, almost admirable) level of restraint. One cannot under emphasize just how vital a factor is Karlson's likability here; cast this character the wrong way, and the tone would never recover. Karlson is an incredibly watchable actor, and he imbues Robert with an eccentric charisma that often distracts us from the fact that this guy is, by most estimations, a loser. In Karlson's hands, Robert's the loser who also happens to be in control, and he makes for a seriously compelling character.

And finally, there's the hook itself. There's very little scientific jargon or data-dumping in FO, and there's no doubt that this is primarily a character-driven film, but the technology Robert uses to manipulate his subjects is the sort of thing that seems outlandish today, and yet could be regrettably commonplace tomorrow. In its own way, LFO is a cautionary tale designed to ease the idea of sound-based behavior control into the public consciousness, much in the same way multiple speculative books and films have psychically prepared audiences for everything from the moon landing to climate change to drones in the sky. In the best storytelling tradition, it achieves this by keeping the story as immediate as possible, letting the bigger implications sink in bit by bit. Original, subversive, provocative and tight as a drum, LFO is proof positive that there will always be new stories to tell, and Tublen and company's next movie can't come soon enough.

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Digger (8 years ago) Reply

There was a saying, attributed to Ronald Reagan that went something like this:
"I'm not afraid of the country that wants hundreds of nukes, I'm afraid of the man that wants only one."

If I had the kind of power/ability portrayed in this film, I'd only need to use it once...

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