(dir. Joel Anderson)
A family tries to cope after their daughter drowns.
Lake Mungo is one of the most uniquely effective modern ghost stories I’ve ever seen. Not only does it leave you with something to contemplate, it manages to create lasting terror with the use of only one, impeccable jump scare. Anderson’s film is no simple paranormal movie, but a meditation on western culture’s relationship with death, mediums, film, and doppelgangers.
The film is made in a cinéma vérité style, consisting largely of interviews with the family and friends of the deceased Alice Palmer, and older footage and photos that depict Alice when she was alive. Alice’s mother, father, and brother each try to deal with her death in different ways, and their belief in or lack of belief in the supernatural not only allows them to eventually move on, but also sets them up for a heartbreaking revelation they aren’t even aware occurs. This entire journey from grief, to acceptance, to revelation rests entirely on what can be recorded-video footage, photographs, and sound clips. This process of recording makes the supernatural subsequently easier to accept, but also easier to discredit. Ultimately, technology is the characters’ undoing, but this is done so subtly that it never comes off as a finger-waving warning, only an observation.
On one level, the film is a heartfelt dramatic exploration of grief and how a belief in the supernatural allows people to hold onto the departed for a little longer. On another level, the film works as a Poe-esque tragedy bound to haunt your dreams. As a result of these two levels, the film is full of juxtapositions: beauty and ugliness, purity and depravity, togetherness and isolation, nature and artifice. While other horror films have delved deep into the loneliness of death alongside the impact of technology, notably 2001’s Kairo, none have managed to so successfully weave together a sense of reality with folklore.
Scare Factor: 4/5 Frightening and deeply moving, Lake Mungo is a breath of fresh air in the ghost sub- genre, and it remains one of the best, and most nuanced uses of the found-footage format.