I’m sorry LFO fans, you’re going to be sorely disappointed if you turn on Antonio Tublen’s similarly titled movie expecting to hear about everyone’s favorite one-hit-wonder boy band (Chinese food makes me sick too!). Instead, Tublen’s LFO is more an artistic exhibition than Hollywood journey, being the cinematic equivalent to Wes Bentley’s bag-obsessed character from American Beauty. There’s an admirable quality about Tublen’s aggressively eccentric story, which blends science and magical hypnotism, yet this same strive for obscurity also ends up being an over-bloated deterrent. What starts as a provocative existentialist look into a puppeteering society unravels in a hazy fog of European synth-pop, sexual desires and apocalyptic overtones, like a mad scientist’s experiment gone horribly awry.
Patrik Karlson plays Robert, a lonely man who turns to science after the death of his wife. Playing around with different sound frequencies, Robert looks to find meaning in his life through experimentation and redesign. After a few different tests, Robert discovers a frequency that acts as a form of hypnosis, letting him control the actions of his new neighbors, Linn (Izabella Jo Tschig) and Simon (Per Löfberg). After toying around with their relationship, Robert finds himself embedded too deeply into their lives, rushing around to wipe their brains of numerous strange encounters. With the lies mounting and attention growing, Robert must find a way out of the mess he created, whether it’s for his own sanity or the good of mankind.
LFO is an exercise in control, restraint, and human decency, spiralling into bigger-picture themes of power-hungry corruption. Tublen poses a simple question – can mortal man responsibly handle God-like power – and what unfolds is the chain of events put into motion by Robert’s decisions. These Herculean struggles have been battled before by cinematic characters, yet Tublen’s techy minefield presents a unique brand of lo-fi science fiction along the lines of humble brainteasers like Primer. Sound waves are invisible, meaning sci-fi effects don’t become more daunting than beeping machines, which benefits LFO‘s wires from becoming tangled in unnecessary flashiness despite embracing a smarty-pants fantasy.
It’s Tublen’s filmmaking techniques that help evolve LFO into a more cerebral experience, packed with conscious decisions meant to provoke thought through camera angles and editing cuts. If you’re watching the movie close enough, you’ll notice that no camera actually leaves Robert’s house – a commentary on Robert’s trapped nature. A slave to his own guilt (dead family drama) and scientific obsessing, the camera never follows Robert the few times he steps foot outside his laboratory (home), asserting the inventor’s focus on control. As Linn and Simon find themselves questioning foggy memories and unexplainable actions, Tublen reflects ensuing chaos by flipping camera views of Robert for quick seconds, coupled with a mechanical shifting of the camera that suggests moving parts are going haywire – a visual representation of Robert losing control.
Astute shooting adds to LFO‘s bewitching allure, but it’s Patrik Karlson’s brand of dark comedy that keeps viewers grasping onto Tublen’s trippy plotting. For being overtly cynical and blatantly evil at times, Robert’s scientific persona creates a watchable character who effortlessly tampers with human lives. Showing no care for Linn or Simon, Robert’s reactions are more aggravated and tiresome when brainwashing Linn after days of cranial pollution, sending her off like an equation that frustratingly can’t be solved. Karlson is charming in a lab-rat kind of way, yet twisted like an unflinching villain, destroying everything around him because life’s meaning has been lost on one tired soul.
With all that said, LFO won’t be for everyone – not by a long shot. Robert’s sick experiments may seem mundane, but the implied mystery will challenge audiences who find it hard to follow along with each moral step backwards. Much like foreign surrealists Alex van Warmerdam and Quentin Dupieux, Tublen’s narration doesn’t follow a singular trail, and can be rewritten with a contrived and coincidental blast of sound.
LFO is all over the place, from Elvis impersonators to revenge sex, from species self-hatred to a random musical interlude proclaiming “Love is good, hate is bad” – the kind of originality that’s universally polarizing – but there’s an ambitious soul that Tublen and Karlson never abandon. With such an artful craft, it’s hard to write off this ingeniously befuddling, down-to-earth genrepiece, even if it’ll go unnoticed like a dog whistle by certain groups of sci-fi fans.