Superposition Photo: courtesy of Frightfest
A standout selection at Halloween Frightfest, Karoline Lyngbye’s Superposition takes a disconcerting science fiction premise and teases it out into a disturbing – and sometimes very funny – psychological drama. There are elements of horror, too, as city couple Stine (Marie Bach Hansen) and Teit (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) head out into the woods on a journalistic mission to find themselves and end up getting much more than they bargained for. On the opposite side of the lake from their little house, they see another couple who seem to resemble them in every way.
It seems very ambitious for a first feature project, I told Karoline when I met her just before the festival.
“Yeah, I guess it is. It's the way the idea shaped itself, so that was just how it went. We did develop it within a call for fairly low budget films. The low budget part is, of course, the fact that it's one location. Of course, it's not such a low budget idea for the doppelgänger bits. We did that part with VFX. There's, of course, a lot of VFX in it, but it's done in a very lo-fi way.”
The central idea would be enough for many filmmakers, but this script keeps on taking unexpected directions. Was that always the intention?
“Yeah, I think the idea was always more psychologically based. I mean, I'm a huge genre fan. We knew the atmosphere in the film, but were more interesting in developing what was going on a psychological level than just going down a more well known genre path.”
There’s a scene in which Stine is out in the woods and her little boy goes missing and it's just for a moment, but we don't know what's happened to him, and she's really frightened. That seems to me to set the emotional tone for the whole film.
“It's a very central scene,” she nods. “The business of the child acting weird, to me was just such an interesting place to dive down and to stay in that horrible feeling, because that's so central to the idea. Also, this existential idea that the people close to you – what if they're not who you think they are? And what makes us? And so forth. And especially with a child, of course, that they belong to you in a sense – you feel that – and in a sense they're completely their own, right? So to just dwell in that space with the main character was just very central part.
“We worked with the music, the score. I guess that's the first time that the score is actually a little violent. In a way it points to itself, and you feel like something is really off.”
It seems to build very well on earlier scenes where the child wants to play all the time, because there's that tension between how you're supposed to be there for children all the time, every single moment, and the impossibility of actually doing that. Especially when Stine is then told that it's her fault that she lost her child for a moment.
“Yes, exactly. For all parents, I feel you could recognise that. But I feel like it also has a dimension of this motherhood and the expectations of being a mother. Just like you said, you feel like you have to be there for this child all the time, and you're a horrible parent if you're not. But that's not possible, and you have your own life also.”
The child actor, Mihlo Olsen, gives an incredible performance throughout. How did she find him and work with him to make that happen?
“We cast different children. He stood out from the beginning. He was quite quiet and reflective and was amazing at saying lines. He was five at that time. It seems when you're five, you still think it's fun to play stuff that's also serious because it's just playing. He wouldn't have such a hard time with doing that. But it was challenging in that sense that when a child doesn't want to shoot, they don't want to shoot. Of course, we worked very specifically around him when we had him. Everything we had with him was shot first, of course, and then we worked around it. But yeah, he had a great chemistry with the actors.”
Marie and Mikkel have great chemistry with each other, too. She explains that they had an established professional relationship.
“They played opposite each other in at least one TV series that was running for a few seasons, a big show here in Denmark. So they knew each other. But it was fun because it was like, ten years ago, so it's been a long time and they developed quite a lot, both of them, since. But, yeah, I feel like that helped. It was nice to know, going into shooting, that they had this chemistry and they could build on that. I also feel that you can sense that.”
It was a six week shoot, she says, extended from an initial five weeks. Additionally, they had the advantage of using a single location, though it was changed around quite a bit for reasons which will become apparent when you watch.
“It was always the idea that this couple would obviously not move into an old cabin. It was fun that this kind of alienating house, it's in contact with nature because there's so much glass that you can see both ways, but in a sense, it doesn't fit at all. They take what they know, they take something modern and a little alienating somehow, and that's what they live in. In a way it says more about them than it does about the nature that surrounds them. And that way we looked for a house, we were lucky to find this place where you can actually see the lake inside the house. So this whole transparency just keeps going. You have the woods outside, but also, you could see the whole way across the lake. So you have this mirror thing that goes all the way.”
It seems almost that there's something dishonest about them saying that they're going to go and live in nature and then having this very modern house, I suggest. That seems to fit with the way that they say that they're going there to be honest with each other and then they're lying to themselves as well, all the way through.
Both leads have challenging work to do due to their dual roles, though CGI helped out at a practical level.
“It was a lot of CGI,” she says. “We had two really good, great actors who played opposite them. We had these stand-ins that, of course, you never seen in the film, so they actually had opportunity to do improvisation and actual acting, and not just act against someone standing there. We tried to do as much as we could in camera. We used very simple CGI and then tried to do it smart so we didn't have to do too much. We did have some green screen and we did have a few scenes that are a bit more complicated because they actually pass each other and interact, but we tried to keep it very lo-fi.
“Of course, scenes where they're all of them sitting around the table, that's very specifically done.” She mimes an action. “If you move like this, you ruin everything. It’s very specific. But yeah, my photographer was in very close collaboration with me and the CGI supervisor, and the photographer did the storyboarding for the scenes where everyone is there.
“I feel like the actors brought so much. The first time I saw the second Stine, I totally felt like she was so different, and I didn't even know what Marie was bringing. We talked about how it's a different kind of both sadness that she has, but she's also more cynical in a way, right? She doesn't have that sense of hope, but not as much desperation. In a way, she seems more honest with herself. We talked about stuff like that and I felt like Marie and also Mikkel really integrated that.”
The central device allows the characters to explore things about themselves that they might never otherwise have admitted.
“One of my favourite scenes is the scene where Marie and Steena sitting on the porch talking. A bit of that is actually improvisation that happened. This whole thing that is so stupid in a way. You mirror each other, but in such a silly way. And just this idea of being able to drink red wine and trash talk and agreeing on how horrible your husband is. And then on the other hand, maybe it sets up some sort of self reflection on your part. That was a really fun thing to do.”
Getting into Frightfest was a nice surprise, she says.
“We didn't really know what would happen. Our international sales agent was a bit ‘Is it horror enough for horror festivals or is it too commercial? Is it too art house?’ I mean, I know it's a bit of a mix. That's my favourite kind of film.
“I feel like films like that have a hard time sometimes with sales agents and commercially. As a filmmaker I always feel pushed to do like, is it this or is it that? I think that's such a shame because the greatest films, to me, are always more experimental in what genre they are and what they dabble with. We didn't really know what to expect, actually, when the film came out. I think the sales agent was surprised that it was a psychological drama as much as it is, and less like a straight horror sci-fi film. But I'm really thrilled that festival is taking it to heart and accepting and applauding the fact that it is a genre mix.”