Lake Mungo (2008)
Lake Mungo as a film is an enigma. From the start it takes you one direction before dragging you off on another, then another, then another. It’s a rare viewing experience for me, someone who usually has quite strong opinions, to finish a movie feeling elements of confusion, fear and satisfaction in equal measure.
Lake Mungo is done in a fake “mockumentary” format (no dummy, it’s not real footage lol). This is something we’ve all seen before and to varying degrees of effectiveness. This particular one starts in a TwinPeakian fashion, a young girl Alice Palmer (hmm) played by Talia Zucker is found drowned in the waters of a local dam. When no foul play is suspected she is buried and her fractured family which comprises of parents June & Russell Palmer (Rosie Traynor & David Pledger) and her brother Mathew (Martin Sharpe) are left behind. Although all the members of the Palmer clan are deeply affected by their loss their denial at her passing creates and odd and unsettling apathy that continues through the interviews that the film is comprised of. Things start to get interesting when Alice starts to show up in pictures and video footage that it taken around the house and they become consumed with finding out what happened to her with the help of dubious psychic and parapsychologist, Ray Kemeny (Steve Jodrell). Together and with the help of evidence and testimonies from friends and strangers who are accidental voyeurs to the events, they discover betrayals within the family and a secret life that Alice concealed from them. By the time we get to the end of the film we discover the unsettling suggestions the evidence makes and that the family will go on suffering, knowing that it is too late for them to get to know or reach out to Alice.
The casual way that the film has been built really helps you get into the spirit of the movie. When the odd occurrences begin and the family explains them with a perfect indifference it only makes the horror of what is happening all the more stark in comparison. This is not so much a film about cheap scares and ghost stories; it’s a beautiful exploration into loss, denial and grieving that the Palmers and many other people who lose a family member must face upon their loved ones death. This is demonstrated in many small gestures or words that the family share throughout the film that highlights their turmoil and their powerlessness. The want for Alice to be there supersedes any logical arguments on ghosts and haunting and those outside the family circle provide the voice of reason. When it appears that perhaps there is something in their claims the outsiders are still dubious. The characters are all very well acted and well rounded and you can so easily get lost in the story trying to dig through, the facts from the lies and the reality from the delusions.
The ending of the film is just as ambiguous as the rest of it but it leaves you with the feeling that perhaps the family has gained some kind of closure. The closing stills shed yet another angle on the story and really hit you with a final punch before the credits roles. The main sources of fear throughout the film are the images of Alice which, though they may be relied upon too heavily, generally always hit the spot. It also has some undeniable pacing issues and places where the plot seems a little repetitive or thin but the payoff at the end of the film makes the journey worth it.
Lake Mungo is one of the finest examples of “real life” horror that I have ever watched. It doesn’t need to be in your face, just the subtle suggestions of Alice’s presence is enough to set a disquieting tones. If you want action packed or things jumping at you every five minutes then this is not the film for you. If you like thoughtful, nuanced films with a strong core then get out there and buy Lake Mungo now.
Video sourced from Youtube.