Starring: Rosie Traynor, David Pledger, Martin Sharpe
Run-time: 87 minutes
IN SHORT: Lake Mungo is a faux-documentary that frustrates as much as it scares. It's more of a murder mystery than a horror film, so patience is required.
Australian indie-thriller, Lake Mungo has a familiar premise. A family are reminiscing about a disturbing part of their life in which their only daughter, Alice, mysteriously disappeared. A series of odd and supposedly supernatural occurences start happening in their home; shrieks in the night, bruises on members of the family. Your standard paranormal activity... The apparent ghost of Alice also keeps cropping up in local photographs around the town. All told in the past tense, the Palmer family start unravelling their complex and astounding personal experiences and through interviews, we learn there's far more to the story than meets the eye.
Lake Mungo starts off as a paranormal drama. The Palmer family call in paranormal 'experts' to come into the house, setting up cameras and hoping to capture Alice on camera. When they do catch a ghostly figure, it's revealed to be the son doctoring the footage because he wants his parents to gain some closure from Alice's death. The ghostly photographs are also easily explained when they turn out to be over-exposures. With all paranormal theories out the window, what did happen to Alice and how did her body end up lying lifeless in Lake Mungo?
|What happened to Alice Palmer?|
Whilst watching Lake Mungo, patience is key. I have to admit I did come close to turning it off in the first half an hour. There are plenty of twists and turns throughout and a definitive answer to Alice's fate seems only minutes away. As is the case in real life murder cases though, most of the witnesses that share their story end up being useless or utter fabrications. Gradually though, the events behind Alice's death unfold and once you get past the seemingly never-ending interviews, the film really starts to kick into gear.
|Everybody becomes a suspect in the documentary - even the family.|
There's a surprising visual quality which gives the film an artistic merit that most of the cinema verite thrillers like Paranormal Activity and The Last Exorcism don't have. The above two play solely for scares with minimal narrative or art direction but this film has some beautifully composed shots of the local town. There are plenty of heavily dramatic moments too, especially when Alice's family are recounting their last memories with their daughter.
All-in-all, I think it’s a very interesting film to check out if you don’t mind the slow build-up and ambiguity. Because that is one big problem with the film, there's a frantic and ambiguous ending that doesn't offer the audience the narrative resolution that they're probably craving. It's important to go into Lake Mungo with the right expectations because it's definitely not your average ghostly horror film and doesn't try to be one.