“Lake Mungo (2008)”
First and foremost, if you consider yourself a ‘true blue’ horror fan, turn away now, because the marketing of this movie was hideously misleading. The international trailer promised thrills and chills, but I assure you, this film native to my country is nothing of the sort. This is a ghost story, but first and foremost, it is a story about the heartbreak of grief and the effects it has on us when it goes unresolved.
Shot in the format of a mockumentary/fakementary in the style of a news investigation, visually it’s something we have all seen before, but in ‘Lake Mungo‘s case, it is completely appropriate.
A close-knit family in rural Australia have just recently lost a beloved family member, Alice (Talia Zucker) in tragic and unseemly circumstances. They are looking for clues, answers, anything to give them peace of mind about Alice’s untimely death. However, things aren’t always as they seem, in fact, they are considerably more disturbing than they ever hoped to imagine, as various elements of her personal life come to light as the investigation progresses. Details about Alice’s passing are dug up, as are details about her life, details that her family never even conceived of, and thus they come to grips with their own views of mortality.
In a way, director Joel Anderson owes somewhat to David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks‘ but rather make this film a mind-bender, it is more of a mind-infiltrator- little by little, ‘Lake Mungo’ travels under your skin by utilising it’s story and it’s actors to maximum effect- grief is a universal sensation, and when it comes to losing somebody you love, be it a family member, friend or even a pet, you feel it. It can be encompassing, oppressive and it can make you feel utterly powerless, and it is these feelings that ‘Lake Mungo‘ strives hard to achieve and for the most part, it is startlingly successful because it hits so close to the heart of all of us. The fact this movie is a ghost story is just part of the context- yes there are apparitions and disturbing moments that we can’t explain, but the true horror comes from the reality of loss. There are no ‘jump’ moments, or heavy-breathing psychos or one-dimensional caricatures of humans, Anderson has chosen to conduct his film with a great sensitivity and the notion that less is more. He presents this film with great maturity and consideration not for money shots, but for the people.
The characters in the film aren’t stereotypes- they are people, people who you could have known or may know. They don’t spurt clever, hip dialogue, they don’t cater to any particular gaze, the actors take their roles very seriously and not once does a performance feel forced or hackneyed. Of particular interest is Rosie Traynor as Alice’s mother, June who is for the most part the anchor of the piece, given June has arguably taken Alice’s death deeper than anybody else in her family, her story, her role and her point of view is that of ours. As she, her family and the news crew delve deeper into Alice’s life, as do we.
Another character is not a human whatsoever, but it is the titular Lake Mungo itself, an actual place here in Australia that was thought to have been the first settlement of our human ancestors. Eerie yet beautiful, it has a distinct aura of deep wisdom as well as uncertainty. Legend has it that water is seen as a symbol of death as well as a means to travel through alternate realms, the Afterlife in particular.
On the downside, while several mysteries are resolved, other are not, namely a crucial incident in Alice’s alternate lifestyle. I won’t reveal it for obvious reasons, but as we get closer to the penultimate aspect of Alice’s fate, this other point is put on the back-burner which leaves you wondering why it was included in the first place since nothing else comes of it. It was rather disappointing because it truly gave insight to how troubled young Alice was in her final days. Another element that may be off-putting is that this is a slow-burner- it takes it’s sweet time to reveal itself, and even then, not all questions will be answered. Those who like their mysteries to be obvious and their ghost stories thrilling and chilling, this isn’t the ideal film for your tastes- ‘Lake Mungo‘ is a mediation on humans dealing with tragedy, not demonic beasties from another realm.
The supernatural may at times be frightening, but in the endgame, what truly gets us the most are ourselves, especially when it comes to the loss of those we love. How do we react? What do we do? Do we do anything at all? And most importantly, how do we deal? Even if we know the truth may hurt us, we can’t help but want to find a resolution, to find closure, because we want peace of mind, no matter what the cost may be. It is here that ‘Lake Mungo’ excels- this story isn’t a blood-soaked scream, but whisper in your ear in the darkness of the beyond.
Trivia: The most chilling quote in the entire movie may sound bland without context, but when you see it in the movie, it not only makes sense, it will be sure to make your spine tingle: “I feel like something bad is going to happen to me… it hasn’t reached me yet, but it’s on it’s way.”
Trivia II: Unsurprisingly, the uncreative big cheeses in Hollywood want to remake this one. Good luck you lazy prats.
Review written by Bea Harper