Lake Mungo (2008)
(15) Running time: 87 minutes
Writer and Director: Joel Anderson
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
Heavily influenced by the style of ‘realism’ chillers such as The Last Broadcast, The Blair Witch Project and even Paranormal Activity, Lake Mungo is a serious chiller for the more patient horror fan. The film is made to look like a documentary on true events which happened in Australia and everything about what you see is very very convincing. The story is about the Palmer family, Dad Russell (Pledger), Mother June (Traynor) and Son Matthew (Sharpe) and they tell you about their grief for the lost of Alice and what events unfolded after her death. Alice was the sixteen year old daughter who tragically drowned while swimming in a local river and the film is news clips, police videos, interviews and home made video’s of what happened and this is creepy stuff, let me tell you. The entire film is mostly interviews with the Palmer’s as they tell you their story and either in images or videos made by Matthew, or by the countless news reports, we learn what happened. All the actors give astonishing, honest and incredibly believable performances and throughout the film you grown fond of them, even liking them which makes what happened all the more tragic.
Unable to deal with the loss of their daughter the family struggle, the Mother doesn’t believe it was her little girl who drowned and needs some sort of closure, she wasn’t brave enough to identify the body, the husband had to do it. The sadness is incredibly powerful, even Russell mentioning how they left the porch light on just in case she came back with a tear in his eye. Friends, family and neighbours are all interviewed and after building up a picture of the grief and the struggle to get through it we turn to more sinister events. The opening of the film makes it clear this is no simple tale of loss, there will be some form of supernatural events taking place. The opening credits are enough to unsettle even the hardest of horror fan as we are met with images of old photos with ghosts in them. You know those old fashioned type photos either in black and white or a sickening yellowish colour, those are the photos we have to witness, with their creepy eyes and stares and the image of ghosts or strange shadows are creepy is Hell.
As we move on with the story is becomes clear that Alice may not have left just yet, and that her ghost is haunting the house. The Father gives an unsettling tale of going into Alice’s room and actually seeing her in their, you have to bare witness to him telling you to fully appreciate how terrifying it is. A local spiritualist is called in to check out the house and give some therapy sessions, Matthew sets up his camera’s in the house to see what is going on at night. Now, before you go expecting another Paranormal Activity I must warn you that the horror on offer here is very very suttle, it is more creepy than full on scary. Seeing images and then noticing someone in a reflection on the mirror, or sat in the far corner of the room. This is chilling stuff as you don’t fully see the horror until you have studied the image for a while. There are no sudden shocks, this is all about atmosphere and skin crawling, spin tingling creepiness. If it weren’t for the exceptional performances by everyone involved his may not have been as effective, but it does work and some scenes were even almost too hard for even this horror fan to watch. Its the tension see!
The film has a short running time, but the pacing is almost painfully slow. This is not the sort of film I would put on to impress someone, this is the kind of film best enjoyed with your nearest and dearest, with the lights off and no interruptions. If you can handle an exceptionally slow build up and you appreciate horror which scares you more by suggestion, then Lake Mungo is for you. Dark secrets come out, and after a mid-film lull things pick up for a truly haunting and nerve jangling final twenty odd minutes. The use of music is very well though out, as is the settings and the overall tone of the film. It doesn’t feel safe, it is unnerving, chilling and at times incredibly scary. Lake Mungo is one of those rarest of horrors that scares you using minimal ideas, minimal scares and relies more on plot and atmosphere. If you like your horrors like this then you could well end up with some sleepness nights after this. If films like The Last Broadcast unsettled you, then Lake Mungo will leave a lasting impression that will stay in the back of your mind for weeks to come.