Fans and guests stand outside the Paris Theater during Netflix's "Leave The World Behind" premiere in New York City on December 4, 2023 ( AFP / ANGELA WEISS)

Film from Obamas' production company is scary, but not a 'weapon'

A film from Barack and Michelle Obama's Higher Ground Productions is an apocalyptic thriller with frightening scenes, but online claims that it has a unique, inaudible audio track that has been weaponized are false. Experts say the low-frequency effects channel is a common filmmaking tool aimed at creating an ominous mood.

"Stunning. Stunning. One video file, four audio files ... this one, this fourth audio file seems to be the weapon," says a voiceover in a January 2, 2024 TikTok video with some 300,000 views. 

Another post on X, formerly Twitter, says: "Other Movies Do Not Have This."

The video shared online, produced by podcasters Bonnie and John Mitchell, has circulated elsewhere on TikTok, Rumble and Telegram.

Screenshot from a TikTok video taken January 4, 2024

In the two-minute clip, John Mitchell discusses the "infrasound" low-frequency effect from the movie "Leave The World Behind," claiming the track is a weapon that "was used against anybody who watches it."

A related blog post offers a more detailed explanation and links to the full 77-minute video in which Bonnie Mitchell says the inaudible track is a "sonic weapon" similar to those used by the military. John Mitchell claims the film is an "on-screen satanic ritual ... combined with a form of mind control weaponry."

A Netflix synopsis says the film, released in US theaters in November 2023, is about a family vacation "upended when two strangers arrive at night, seeking refuge from a cyberattack that grows more terrifying by the minute." The movie is based on a 2020 novel of the same name by Rumaan Alam, who serves as an executive producer alongside former president Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and others.

But claims that the audio track highlighted online is unique are false.

"This person seems to have discovered the Low Frequency Effects (LFE) track that is present in nearly every movie since Star Wars introduced it in 1977," said Chris Kyriakakis, an engineering professor at the University of Southern California who specializes in acoustics, in a January 3, 2024 email.

"It contains the low-frequency rumble, explosions, etc, and is beneficial because it reduces the amplifier load for the other speakers by using its own speaker (called a subwoofer). There is absolutely no way to use this track as a weapon."

Audio equipment maker Marantz says on its website that LFE "is an audio track found on all Dolby and DTS audio" (archived here).

Filmmakers have long used infrasound -- noise at frequencies generally inaudible to humans -- to make films eerier. 

French director Gaspar Noé told Salon he used the technique for his controversial 2002 film "Irréversible."

"You can't hear it, but it makes you shake," he said. "In a good theater with a subwoofer, you may be more scared by the sound than by what's happening on the screen. A lot of people can take the images but not the sound. Those reactions are physical."

AFP contacted Higher Ground Productions for comment, but no response was forthcoming.

Acoustic weapons

US law enforcement agencies sometimes use long-range acoustic devices (LRADs), which emit extremely loud sounds (2000-4000 Hertz), to break up crowds (archived here).

For example, the US Park Police used an LRAD on June 1, 2020 to disperse protesters in Lafayette Square near the White House. The devices were created after the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.

"They are very large, require massive amounts of power and specialized transducers," Kyriakakis said.

Meanwhile, infrasound includes noise lower than 20 Hertz. The body experiences it as vibrations, exposure to which some studies indicate can change blood pressure, respiratory rate and balance.

AFP has previously fact-checked claims about the Obamas herehere, here and here

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