Lake Mungo

Just when I thought I was too jaded to appreciate the sub-genre of faux-reality horror, in slinks the not very creepy sounding but very creepy indeed, LAKE MUNGO. My little MUNGO is such a well-crafted film that its unauthentic nature becomes absolutely irrelevant. Seriously, this is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen, who cares if it’s not real? Who needs “real” anyway? Art has been cleaning up reality’s mess since the beginning of time. Feel free to quote me on this; art is reality’s janitor. Why am I talking about art? Because that’s what this MUNGO film is, that’s why.

I blame part of my abhorrence towards PARANORMAL ACTIVITY on envious outrage. How dare that film dispense creep-cookies to everyone who stood in line except me? I like to get spooked too ya’ know. Well, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, I don’t need you or your stinkin’ creep-cookies, I found a less shaky fake-y with characters deeper than a Petri dish, a story that took more than five minutes to conjure and egads, something to say besides “boo!” and yea, it deigned to feed even little old me some delicious creep-cookies. In fact, it pretty much shoveled creep cookies down my throat and I liked it…I liked it! I liked it like Carrie White’s mama likes whiskey breath.

LAKE MUNGO takes the mockumentary approach (think CURSE OF THE BLAIR WITCH rather than THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT) while telling the tale of the Palmer family (DAVID LYNCH fans, that surname is no accident!) who have lost their daughter to a drowning in the lake of the film’s title. Through interviews and the presentation of assorted memorabilia we get an intimate front row seat as the family’s surviving members concurrently fight to accept their loss, speculate that her spirit may still remain and discover ugly truths about the deceased. MUNGO goes back and forth suggesting that the supernatural may or may not be involved but it hardly matters, as the Palmers are truly haunted in every other aspect. In fact, the film’s coda seems to be, “You don’t have to make this crap up…look around you!”

This is the type of rare horror film that actually has the cajones mas grandes to look death in the eye. Whatever unseen entity may be shadowing the Palmers, the family has much more profound things to express to it than, “Get off my lawn!” When we are made privy through diary entries to the dead daughter’s precognition that something is getting closer and that she may be circling life’s drain, the atmosphere literally floods with existential dread. Ultimately, first time director JOEL ANDERSON understands that a picture is worth a thousand words and we are shown one image near the film’s close that is such a doozy that all thousand of those words is “Yikes!”

Usually the biggest hurdle for a film that portends to be real to jump is the acting, nothing bursts the reality bubble faster than an over enthusiastic ad libber and plot progressing behavior that simply doesn’t ring true. MUNGO’s cast skates by these issues with ease, nobody is less than authentic and ma and pa Palmer are pretty damn astounding in their shell-shocked lethargy. Now, to be honest there are several pieces to the overall puzzle that do not fit in as smoothly as the rest, but by the time the credits roll the overall sensation it leaves you with overpowers any quibbles. I don’t want to curse this movie with too much praise but if you’re looking for a highly original ghost tale and you appreciate your scares whispered in your ear quietly rather than dumped in your lap like a plate of spaghetti this is for you.

LAKE MUNGO has been selected as part of this year’s AFTER DARK HORRORFEST and I recommend you go see it if you can. Being that it deals with accepting tragic loss rather than posturing and preserving one’s haul, I doubt it will find as wide an audience as PARANORMAL ACTIVITY did; but yeah, I’m saying that it’s a far superior, vastly more satisfying film. You may not feel an affinity with all of the sorrow and grief on display, but isn’t it the biggest creep-cookie of all to know that inevitably someday you will?

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Andre Dumas
12 years ago

Glad you loved it! As I said in my review of the film- I was so convinced by the acting of the actors- and the faux documentary style that I kept checking to make sure I wasn’t watching a real documentary on the REAL story of Lake Mungo. Rest assured no such real story exists.
But this film was one of the most haunting movies I have ever seen and SPOILER  there isn’t really a “real” ghost. Rather the concept of the actual “ghost” is much more terrifying- and the mirroring of the mother’s session with the psychic and the daughter’s early session that they showed towards the end of the film sent serious shivers down my spine! I can’t wait for everyone else to see this!

Andre Dumas
12 years ago

Also,  I don’t know if you have seen the newest poster released but it’s such a CROCK. I think it’s going to be so detrimental to this movie’s success and to the dreaded remake. It makes it look the girl was swimming and that some scary ghost came and killed her or something crazy. It’s really awful. It has her emerging from the water and whipping back her hair that is dripping with black water filled with “spookiness”. Bah!!

12 years ago

Yes!  This movie was amazing … it was everything that Paranoraml Activity claimed to be, and fell vastly short of.  And yes … the new poster is awful, absolutely awful.

Blue Seven
Blue Seven
12 years ago

Thanks for the writeup, Unk.  I enjoyed this one.  It’s cool how it sort of sidesteps convention a time or two, so that when you’re well into the movie you realize it’s not going where you were sure it was going to go.
A dollop of Twin Peaks mixed with Curse of the Blair Witch, nice!  I would have liked it if certain things brought up early on (like Mathew’s bruises) had been addressed later, but it’s always nice to see something that isn’t compelled to wrap everything up neat n tidy.  That’s undoubtedly what the American remake (slated for 2011) will be for, yeah?
And bless you for not posting a screencap of that one image.  Iconic and scary as hell.
Did you ever write in detail about Home Movie, by the way?

12 years ago

I just have to say that I haven’t seen this movie yet, but your post about it intrigued me far more than anything else I’d read about the film so far, AND it fired my synapses in just the right ways that my imagination (and my relentless google searches for more information) left me totally freaked out last night, lol. Good job!

12 years ago

I had put Lake Mungo at the top of my mental to-watch list when I’d read this review back in January, but only just got the chance to watch now that it’s on DVD.

I’m so glad that I’d forgotten that the review mentions a particular scary image, because I wasn’t expecting anything and when that happened in the movie I got a bigger spooky chill than I’ve had from a movie since I was a kid.  I think I physically, probably audibly shivered.  Thank you, Lake Mungo!

11 years ago

Guys, I cannot express how thankful I am that you introduced this movie to me. It’s so deeply sad. I was stunned by the final moments of the movie. It’s a really outstanding achievement. Easily now one of my all time favs, if perhaps my absolute favorite.