SpectreWatch | ‘LFO’ and Our Illusions of Control
SpectreWatch is where writer Justin Drabek discusses SpectreVision’s horror filmography, the impact it has had on him, and the cultural relevance of the company’s commitment to making outsider art for the screen. Each film carries a unique tone, and yet, as SpectreVision continues to produce more films, there seems to be a common thread that carries throughout the work they choose to release.
In SpectreVision’s fifth feature, they chose a more sci-fi/dramatic feel, and it actually became one of the scariest films they made. On the surface, LFO, the Swedish film written and directed by Antonio Tublen, is not scary, but deep down on a human level, horror lurks, which tends to be the scariest kind of horror. Art can reflect life in all aspects — not just the ones we want to see — like films that tap into the human psyche, the inability to accept that things won’t always go our way, the inability to keep going, and just how far people are willing to go to gain control, something we shouldn’t be seeking, though we often do. LFO is a cautionary tale with a heightened sense of reality firmly grounded in today’s world.
Robert Nord (Patrik Karlson) is on a quest to cure his tinnitus (ringing in one or both of his ears) by using sound. He’s also on a quest to escape the reality where he lives and the past that haunts him, a key theme of LFO. While online with anonymous friends, Robert finds a solution where the low-frequency oscillator creates a lapse moment in the human brain that can be controlled or manipulated. He does this on himself for things such as not eating sweets or simply sleeping. But he eventually uses this as means to get everything he wants, selfishly.
Robert starts abusing the mind control device with his new neighbors, and quickly, the habit of helping turns into harming. It’s interesting because it’s juxtaposed with him having conversations with his deceased wife Clara (Annah Rasch). He debates the morality of his decisions and always justifies his actions, while his “wife” continues to push him towards getting help or just stopping the project altogether. Yet, as he continues to use these methods and gains more control over others, he finds it harder and harder to stop. At one point in the film, he brainwashes his neighbors to be stand-ins for his deceased wife and son. When taking these scenes out of context, they’re not scary in the traditional sense, but given how much each scene emotes with a man desperately trying to recreate the life he used to have is both horrifying and humbling in one fell swoop. A darkness looms over every decision Robert makes, and it is perfectly conveyed via the images and soundscapes the filmmakers use.
My interpretation of LFO is that it’s a ghost story. As we watch Robert go through the film, he is constantly reminded of his wife who appears in scenes, communicates with him, and haunts him for a decision he made resulting in her and their son’s death. Details of their death are spread throughout the film via news reports on the radio and various other means. As the past continues to be a constant presence in his life, he begins to turn his neighbors into surrogate versions of his family. While he is trying to run away from his past, he also wants a version of his old life that he can completely control as his dead wife’s ghost continues being the side of reason during his increasing derangement. This isn’t your typical ghost tale, but as Shirley Jackson said, “A ghost can be a lot of things.” Here we have a protagonist faced with all his “ghosts” and all the different ways he has shaped and or changed reality and its profound effect on him. Much like the choices we make.
How often do we try to control things and the people around us? How often are there good results? Never. When we try to push our reality onto the real world, it creates a falsity. This is a vital lesson to learn. Sure, we can maintain the illusion that we have control, but we never will, and if we let go of that illusion, things generally work out for the better. Whether this illusion of control is in love, work, or friendship, I know I’m glad I’ve never had such ultimate means of manipulation as Robert has in this film; manipulation is essentially what Robert’s device is used for. I know I’ve been manipulative in the past, and even if much like Robert I try to convince myself that I didn’t do it, I still end up admitting that I have manipulated people to get my desired outcome. We have all done this in one form or another, but it’s all about learning from that experience and changing from it.
There’s a scene in the film where Robert convinces his neighbors that he’s a therapist and thus interjects himself into their lives but only for the means to get what he wants. It’s devastating to see as he continues to use this device and his world begins crumbling around him, yet he can ignore or make his problems go away (or at least be turned into his favor) with the use of his magical creation. Even if we don’t have the magical creation Robert uses in this film, the metaphor is clear and present: there is no way we can control this world, at least not in ways that aren’t hurtful. It’s hard to admit that we do this, but this metaphor allows us to see ourselves in these moments and learn from them. We can leave control behind and move forward onto something better. Honesty and communication are vital. Besides, this is all temporary. What good is controlling others? As a result, we hurt the ones we love, and we hurt ourselves as well.
LFO is another shining example of why SpectreVision is so important both then and now. I wish I had seen this sooner being this is my first watch of the film. I would have liked to have seen it in a small theater with strangers around me; it would have enhanced the overall experience. I believe that LFO is highly overlooked in SpectreVision’s oeuvre and should be sought out. The film has a lot to say and so much of it is vital. 🩸
Justin Drabek is a contributing writer for Manor Vellum. He also writes for Horror Obsessive and formerly for Killer Horror Critic. He loves cats, and dogs seem to like him…he’s not so sure about them. Follow him on Twitter @Justin_Drabek.
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