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Dark Sky Films // Unrated // October 28, 2014
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted January 23, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Robert (Patrik Karlson) is a very lonely man. His wife, Clara (Ahnna Rasch) has left him, and he falls into a routine of frying eggs for food (the cartons stack up right next to the stove) and sitting in his basement, playing with his synthesizers and chatting with a couple of people online. Robert has tinnitus, a condition which creates a constant sound in the ears even when no sound is present (often a ringing, but not always), and he uses the synthesizers to try and correct this problem. Instead, he stumbles upon a frequency which knocks him out for several hours, and he eventually comes to the conclusion that the right frequency could be used to induce hypnosis over others. At the same time, Linn (Johanna Tschig) and Simon (Per Lofberg) move in next door, providing Robert with the perfect pair of test subjects. As Robert becomes more and more interested in seeing how much control he has over his newfound friends, he starts to lose grip on not just reality, but also his ego.

Produced by Elijah Wood's SpectreVision label, LFO is an interesting Swedish import thriller that never quite soars, but certainly achieves a number of small flights throughout its short running time. Written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Antonio Tublen, this is a surprisingly assured piece of work, which makes the most out of a minimal budget and a strong cast. It's a fun film to watch and a tough film to review for the same reason the film is flawed: the middle section of the film starts to travel in circles, covering the same territory (albeit in different ways).

Predictably, the first thing that Robert does with Linn is cure his loneliness. He invites the couple over for coffee, then hypnotizes Simon into being the kind of neighbor who cleans his windows as a favor, and convinces Linn that she is secretly attracted to him. It's not long before he is having an affair with her under the guise of science. Clara scoffs at this notion when she talks to Robert, fully aware that he is manipulating them dishonestly, but Robert insists that sometimes morality has to stand aside in the name of groundbreaking innovation. Of course, Robert's current relationship with Clara is also infected with this dishonesty, stemming from Robert's own insecurities and desperate need to be taken seriously. Eventually, Robert installs microphones inside his neighbors' home, so that he can listen and influence them even when they're not interacting with him.

As one might expect, LFO is more about sound than visuals, accompanied by a haunting electronic score that is unsettling after a certain amount of time, albeit in an artistically intentional way. The sound of Robert's hypnosis device becomes embedded in the viewer's brain after awhile, a Pavlovian indication that he is crossing a boundary that shouldn't be crossed. Early in the film, there are also some nice moments conveying his tinnitus to the audience through a persistent, invasive howl, sort of like static or something being rubbed over a live microphone. Tublen's direction is fairly straightforward, although he injects a little style in the form of strange shifting camera movements when Robert is playing with his synthesizer. It's an unusual effect, and fitting for the tone of the picture. He draws strong performances from his cast, namely Tschig and Lofberg, who frequently "transform" into different people when Robert is influencing them.

Eventually, the microphones Robert places in the neighbors' home inadvertently create a new wrinkle in Linn and Simon's relationship, which then changes Linn and Simon's relationship with Robert. The twist is funny, but not particularly revealing, leading to more scenes that are essentially more manipulation of them through his device. Tublen plays with a more fascinating twist, as Linn takes notice of the remote control that Robert is always carrying around, but backs away in favor of an audacious and ambitious ending. Kudos to Tublen for sticking the landing (the middle portion created some skepticism), but LFO is both an original and well-made independent first-time feature, and an imperfect movie, one that, like its protagonist, gets a little too sidetracked with its invention to really explore all of the possibilities.

IFC's DVD of LFO arrives with the same stylish artwork as the original poster on both the front and back: spiraling audio cables on the front, and a silhouette-style image of Robert on the back. The one-disc release comes in a transparent DVD case, and there is no insert inside the case.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen and Swedish Dolby Digital 5.1, This looks and sounds pretty good for a standard-definition presentation. The image has an intentionally altered appearance, partially desaturated, but also a faint sepia tone. Fine detail is surprisingly strong, and most importantly, this fairly dark film is free of any banding that I noticed.

As mentioned in the review, the audio is the focal point for the movie, and this 5.1 track does a good job handling its needs. The film features an off-key, unsettling electronic score that nervously beeps, hums, and pulses throughout the film like a living thing. It's immersive and off-putting at the same time, but not so much that watching the film becomes oppressive, surrounding the viewer with bizarre sound effects and strange noises. Dialogue sounds just fine as well. English subtitles are provided, which drop out during the one scene where Robert speaks English.

The Extras
There is only one extra, a making-of featurette (15:26), which is more promotional than informative, actually opening with a wave of critical praise for the film before seguing into a fairly familiar series of clips and talking-head interviews that mostly appear to be from the promotional tour for the film.

An original theatrical trailer for LFO is also included.

There's enough good things in LFO to earn it a recommendation, but it's a film that doesn't quite reach its full potential. Worth a look for the interesting concept, which eventually builds to a highly entertaining conclusion, as well as the efficiency and skill with which this debut picture has been put together.

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