“A supernatural drama about grief.” — IMDb
The low-budget debut from Australian director Joel Anderson, Lake Mungo is a promising start to his career… not only a convincing and terrifying story, but a deeply sad depiction of grief and a family’s desperate attempt to understand the death (and life) of a loved one.
Synopsis: It takes the format of a documentary, interviewing the family and friends of Alice Palmer after she mysteriously drowns at a nearby dam while on a day trip with her parents and brother. The mystery only intensifies as more of Alice’s secret life is uncovered…
** SPOILERS **
I mean, firstly, could there be more glaring similarities to Twin Peaks? Not only do we have the young girl turning up dead in a body of water, the discovery of the sordid details of her secret sexual life by her friends and family, the ability to foresee her own death, and the clandestine relationship with her psychic (okay, in Twin Peaks it’s a therapist, but still)… but her last name is even Palmer! But, hey, I love Twin Peaks, so… no harm, no foul.
“I feel like something bad is going to happen to me. I feel like something bad has happened. It hasn’t reached me yet but it’s on its way. And it’s getting closer. And I don’t feel ready.”
The documentary style is one I personally enjoy. I am generally a fan of any style of horror movie that makes it more convincing, whether it be a fake documentary or found footage, and this one did a good job of making you feel like you were truly watching these family members give genuine answers to questions (due in part to the fact that the actors improvised many of their lines). They intersperse old family photos (which were particularly haunting for me) along with some footage from Alice and her psychic, Ray (Steve Jodrell).
As mentioned, the movie deals heavily with grief and the disbelief and shock that comes after a loved one dies. The fact that Alice (played by Talia Zucker in the brief moments where she is shown alive) died so suddenly and mysteriously only adds to this suspense of reality. It particularly affects her mother, June (Rosie Traynor), who is convinced initially that Alice is still alive, partly because she had opted to not go in with her husband, Russell (David Pledger), to identify her corpse. I think the fact that death can have such effects on the living is scary enough on its own.
I thought the music was great — it was sad without trying too hard to be spooky or overpowering.
The more classically scary bits of the movie are, I think, well spaced out among an overall sense of overwhelming dread. There’s only a few moments of gore and jump scares and it relies more on what you aren’t seeing on camera to produce fear.
The ultimate twist of the movie — Alice seeing her own dead self while on a field trip at Lake Mungo, and the various comparisons of her sessions with the psychic and stories from the family — leave many questions lingering in the air. Did Alice know she was going to die? Does her mother commit suicide at the end, unable to cope with the grief and regret she feels? The film doesn’t presume to answer those for us, which is part of what I loved. Well worth the watch!
Rating: 7/10 | Director: Joel Anderson | Writer: Joel Anderson | Cinematography: John Brawley | Music: David Paterson | Starring: Rosie Traynor, David Pledger, Martin Sharpe, Talia Zucker, Steve Jodrell