Superposition (2023)

Superposition had its UK première on Saturday 28th Oct at the Halloween FrightFest

Superposition opens with a duplicated image – there is blue sky, a lake, a distant forested shoreline, and an inversion of the same view reflected in the watery surface. What makes this picturesque shot instantly unnerving is that it has been tilted, so that the water which splits the two images runs vertically rather than horizontally across the screen, as though the landscape were facing itself in a mirror. 

Mirrors and reflections will abound in this feature debut from director Karoline Lyngbye. The huge glass doors and windows on one side of the remote Swedish house into which Danish couple Stine (Marie Bach Hansen) and Teit (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) have moved for a year with their young son Nemo (Mihlo Olsen) and dog Tarzan are designed to offer a perfect panoramic view of the lake beyond, but also expose, through their reflective surfaces, the domestic drama within. 

While, in this woodland wilderness, Stine is hoping to overcome her writer’s block, Teit is documenting in a radio podcast the time that this urban couple spend together off the grid. Teit states from the outset that the whole point of their year-long adventure in isolation, aside from living sustainably, is to “find another way of being together as a family” and “to find each other” – with a clear implication that something in this marriage has been lost. For this is a time for them to take stock of how they feel about their significant other and their son, and to engage in some prolonged self-reflection, with only themselves and nature for company. Stine is enjoying the peace and simplicity of this new environment where “there is no one to compare yourself to”, even as she wonders aloud if the whole process might be “the most narcissistic premise ever” and “very self-absorbed.”

There is trouble in Paradise (‘Paradise’ also being the name of Teit’s podcast). Teit has cheated on his wife, Stine has lost interest in sex, and their regular podcast recordings together become more like couple’s therapy sessions, testing the boundaries of their honesty with each other (the screenplay was co-written by Lyngbye and Mikkel Bak Sørensen, in a gendered arrangement that reflects the verbal dialectic between its male and female protagonists). As all the old grudges and bickering recriminations inevitably resurface, the tensions between husband and wife become palpable, even if neither is entirely willing to give their otherwise beloved Nemo the attention that he needs in this lonely place to which, after all, they have brought him. The view from the window may be idyllic, but the outlook for this family is not looking so good.

During this time, Stine becomes ever more irritable as she discovers that there are other people apparently living across the lake even though she and Teit had been guaranteed complete solitude. While out playing in the woods with Nemo, Stine gets distracted by seeing someone else there, and briefly loses sight of Nemo, only to hear another woman also calling for him by name. When she finds Nemo again, he goes into a prolonged tantrum, insisting that she is not his mother. 

[Note: the rest of this review contains spoilers – although no more than can be found in festival programme notes]

Nemo is not wrong. For staying just across the lake are another Stine and another Teit, who are lodged in a house mirroring that of their only neighbours and alter egos, who have recently decided to get divorced, and who will do anything to get their own missing son Nemo back. As all these characters, now multiplied, get a reified view of how the other half lives, and see new possibilities for the dissolution or reintegration of their own respective relationship, Superposition becomes part modern adaptation of Swedish changeling myths, part parallel universe sci-fi, and part writer’s block fantasia (might we be seeing Stine imaginatively processing her family’s issues on the page?). 

Here, as in James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence (2014), Leigh Janiak’s Honeymoon (2014) and Dane Elcar’s Brightwood (2022), a couple’s psychodrama that has already long been playing out is amplified, intensified and objectified by the introduction of an irrational element of genre. These self-involved characters, narcissistically beguiled by their own image, prove willing to fuck, deceive, even kill each other – which is to say themselves – if it will get them out of their fix and stop their relationship going around in circles.

“It is just like looking in a mirror,” says one Teit as he interrogates the other – and that act of reflection, of dancing with the self, reveals how it might be possible for at least some of the Stines and Teits to ‘start over’, to stick with their best sides while jettisoning the worst, and indeed, as Teit had earlier suggested, “to find another way of being together as a family.” Boasting some very convincing compositing effects that duplicate its cast of three while leaving it to the actors to mark these six characters’ subtle differences, Superposition is an unnerving exploration of domestic dysfunction that lays out a map for change while leaving the viewer uncertain what further troubles might be in store down the road. 

strap: In Karoline Lyngbye’s SF-tinged domestic drama, a dysfunctional family finds itself in a remote lakeside cabin or two.

© Anton Bitel