[Originally published on Oct 11, 2013 for another website I’m no longer affiliated with. By contractual agreement for content I created, enough time has passed that my work may be migrated to my own blog. Hope you enjoy it.]
This series is going to look at the movies that are out there that don’t make everyone’s list every year and that some of you may have overlooked in the annual avalanche of horror DVDs on the market.
Today we look at Lake Mungo.
Lake Mungo is a wonderful little horror film that seems to have been overlooked by a lot of people out there. The film is an Australian production that was packaged and shown here in the states as a part of one of the annual After Dark Film Festivals.
The problem with that is that After Dark has acquired a rep with many horror fans of having a lot of films that fall somewhere between being sort of okay to being a really bad, Syfy original horror level films. The reason that this reputation is a problem is that a lot of people out there then tend to miss any roses growing among all of those weeds. Well, Lake Mungo ain’t no weed. It’s a certifiable rose and worth hunting down.
Lake Mungo isn’t a straightforward movie. It was shot as a fake documentary about the death of a young woman named Alice Palmer. Alice drowns while swimming during a family outing to Ararat, Australia. Once the grieving family comes home, strange things begin to happen.
Enter the documentary filmmaker, a psychic, and the meat of the film. The “documentary” uncovers signs of haunting, determining that Alice is apparently not at rest, and her spirit is now haunting the family home. The filmmakers give us a nice look at the family and the evidence of the haunting with a very leisurely paced approach. Some people might think that’s a bad thing, but they use that pace to create a very palpable feeling of unease in the viewer, building the tension so carefully you don’t initially realize that it’s affecting you.
If there’s one problem with the pace and the approach to the story, it’s that this film might actually be hurt by being seen at home on a TV versus being seen in a movie theater. It’s not that the film is a visual spectacle with FX work that benefits from the big screen experience; far from it actually. The reason is that this film jerks the viewers’ chains a bit.
For over the first half of the film, the fake documentary takes its own sweet time in giving you a look at the family, the tragedy around Alice’s death, and the haunting itself. It then takes an unexpected turn that I can’t tell you about here as it’s a major spoiler. But, suffice it to say, a lot of people might want to stop watching the film at that point.
Now, I didn’t stop watching. I wanted to, but someone I trust recommended the film to me while it was still streaming on Netflix, and they told me to watch it until the end no matter what I might otherwise want to do when I hit roughly the film’s midpoint. Good advice, as the twist comes off as a major WTF moment where you suddenly feel like the filmmakers have yanked the rug out from under you and wasted your time with an all too cutesy attempt to be too clever by half where no such stunt is needed or welcome.
My advice to you is the same as my friend’s was to me. Keep watching the thing when feel that you’ve hit that point.
As the revelation from the twist crashes down on the entire family and seemingly sets the film wildly off course, yet another revelation is discovered by the family in the fallout. The film, still in its fake documentary format, changes course to now focus on Alice’s secrets and the effect that those secrets have on her family.
Again, you get slowly drawn into the story with the feelings of unease and tensions grow within you more and more. Once they have you back on that hook, once they’ve taken you where they wanted you to be, the filmmakers drop the hammer on you. The final revelation of the film is so amazingly simple but so amazingly effective. One of the final images of the film, a picture of a smiling family juxtaposed against a recorded statement of Alice’s, has a powerful little kick to it as well.
I’ll be completely honest with you here despite the fact that many will find this hilariously wimpy of me. And I can be honest about this because (1) I still know can go toe to toe with just about anyone when it comes to watching extreme horror, and (2) I know I’m far from alone in having this reaction to the film.
I watched Lake Mungo at the recommendation of another officer after getting off shift one night, and I was home alone as the wife and kids had gone out of town for the weekend. I started the movie, I watched the movie, the credits rolled, the little Netflix screen popped back up on the TV, and I then did about a six episode bender of South Park with all the lights on as I could not fall asleep right after watching Lake Mungo to save my life. I then went into work the next day and threatened to beat senseless the guy who recommended that I watch the thing after work.
My coworker, a guy who watches some of the most extreme horror films out there, then told me that he had had the same reaction to the film that I did, and that the guy who recommended it to him admitted to him after he watched it to having the same reaction as well. I’ve recommended this film to a number of friends, family, and coworkers since then, and easily three or four out of every five of them has the same reaction.
Lake Mungo is not a gorefest of a film. Lake Mungo is not filled with action, slashing, blood, guts, multiple heavy FX (practical or CGI) shots every few minutes towards the climax of the film or any of the things you see in 90% of the horror films out there these days. What Lake Mungo does have is meticulously well crafted filmmaking designed to get under your skin and into your head in the most subtle ways. Then it just pops that tension it’s been building in you and leaves you a sitting there debating with yourself exactly how many lights you should leave on when you try to go to sleep that night. Lake Mungo is a horror film that disturbs you on levels well beyond the simple shock and gore levels, and it was designed to scare you in ways that are far more complicated and complex to pull off than just having someone suddenly jump into a shot and yell boo.
Lake Mungo is a horror film. Lake Mungo is a horror film in the truest sense of the word. It’s also a film that, if you’ve not seen it, is worth tracking down and seeing in place one of your well-worn, regularly watched horror movies.
Lake Mungo can be found for sale and rent through the usual websites and dealers.