Friday, March 26, 2010

Lake Mungo

It wasn't very long ago that I made a statement about most of the After Dark Horrorfest movies being less than stellar. And I still stand by that, excluding the film I am about to discuss.

Lake Mungo is an Australian production (from 2008 but included in this year's Horrorfest) that is a surprisingly effective venture into the exhaustive realm of "found footage" films genre lovers have been bombarded with in the last several years. While you may groan and gripe about yet another Blair Witch rip-off joining the ranks, I'm here to tell you: not so fast.

First of all - and most importantly in my book- there are no truly annoying characters like the BWP shoved down our throat for ninety grueling minutes. Secondly, Lake Mungo is presented in such a way that you feel like you've sat down on a lazy sunday afternoon to catch a story on tv about a supposed true-life haunting. It plays out like completely like a documentary, and you're sold on it hook, line, and sinker from the get-go. The acting is far and away the best I've seen in this type of "mockumentary"film. They are so believeable that you feel they could be your next door neighbors.

It starts out in interview mode, with the family of Alice Palmer discussing the details of the teen's disappearance during a family picnic by a local dam. Apparently, her brother Matt and her were in the water and the next thing Matt knew, she was gone. The requisite search and rescue turned up nothing, and sadly, divers eventually found her body at the bottom of the lake.

Within a few days of her burial, the family begins to endure inexplicable phenomena at the house. They hear things coming from Alice's bedroom, see split-second images that could be her, have nightmares, and experience an all-around sense of unease throughout the house.

Inasmuch as they are in the process of trying to deal with their insurmountable grief at the death of Alice, they now have to deal with these strange little happenings that turn their lives upside down. As I said before, the actors portraying the family members are so "real" that you almost wish you could take a casserole over to their house and send flowers to the funeral home.

Here's where the 'found footage' aspect of the film starts. Matt, being an amateur photographer, sets up a video camera in the house and catches a few glimpses of what certainly seems to be Alice - walking about the house, showing up in mirrors off in the distance, and most disturbingly, standing in the back yard. Added to this we have interviews with friends and extended family regarding the validity of the assumption that Alice is haunting the family residence.
There comes a time when June (mom) begins to believe perhaps Alice isn't dead at all, thinking perhaps her husband had misidentified the body in the morgue. Footage taken by a couple on holiday at the dam where Alice died surfaces, showing what most certainly looks like a shot of Alice looking out from the trees. Blurry, yet distinctive enough that June talks Russell (dad) into having Alice's body exhumed to do a DNA determination.

Also thrown into the mix is Ray Kemeny, a renowned psychic who agrees to see June. Through discussions, hyponotism, and even a seance, Ray tries to help the family solve the mystery of just what is going on in their home. Matt films the seance, and when watching the footage back, they see something they weren't expecting, and it isn't Alice.

I'd really prefer not to give anything else away, because to do so would be a disservice to what the film is attempting to do here. I will say that they find out Alice was leading a double life.
I think I can safely admit that at times, I see a lot of Twin Peaks in this film. Right down to the last name of Palmer, it sometimes feels like an ode to that style of story, with too many similarities to simply disregard. And in my book, anything touching on what Twin Peaks had is a very good thing. (Alas, no dancing midgets or damn fine coffee though, sorry...)

But at its heart, Lake Mungo feels like a ghost story. And I haven't even touched on what actually happened at Lake Mungo. Alice died in a dam near her home, not at the dry lake region of Mungo National Park in Australia. All of what I have mentioned happens prior to even the mere mention of Lake Mungo. You've got to see the film to get the goods.

Some horror fans may feel a bit let down that all they get in the way of gore is some shots of Alice's water-logged corpse. And as for nudity? Well, just a tiny bit - and it's not exactly a clear cut shot. I'm sure these two absences may cause some to huff away in disgust, pining for the blood and guts - but clearly they would be missing the entire point. Suffice it to say if you're the type who needs something like Martyrs or a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to get your horror rocks off, then steer clear of this one. It's purely psychological horror, all the way. There are a few truly unnerving images - ones that still stick with me, actually - but the draw here is the layer upon layer of tension, confusion, and finally- understanding that makes this film unique.

In my opinion, it puts the considerably overrated Paranormal Activity to shame. Whereas Paranormal had a few "Oh my God!" scenes, Lake Mungo revels in its subtlety. The frights sneak up on you here, and don't jump out at you like a cheap thrill. The winding storyline catches you off-balance time and time again, like a Russian nesting doll. Just when you think things have finally been resolved, they unwrap yet another facet of the story.

And make sure if you watch Lake Mungo you stick around for the credits.
That's all I'm saying.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


James said...

I've heard good things about this - and your review really makes me want to check it out even more! Thanks Chris. I think I've generally enjoyed most of the After Dark flicks I've seen.
Hope your weekend is filled with horror movies and vintage wine.

kindertrauma said...

"Puts the considerably overrated Paranormal Activity to shame." Couldn't agree more.

Mungo has an interesting story to tell and more than just a perfunctory interest in it's characters. It's too bad those two things don't seem to carry as much weight as a good blurb.

Great review!-Unk

Al Bruno III said...

I want to thank you for this article... it got me interested enough to order and watch the movie tonight and it was fantastic.

The story was subtle, spooky and haunting. It also had a hell of a lot of heart.

Thanks again for leading this horse to water.

Can't See Sheep said...

I have got to give this a look. Sounds great, great post by the way. Love the Twin Peaks aspect. Thanks you've given me a movie to watch this weekend.

C.L. Hadden said...

James: Definitely give this one a look, it's great. You have a great weekend, too! I've got a reserve Cabernet ready to go;)

Unk: Bizarre how many good films are overlooked as far as hype goes and then a mediocre flick like Paranormal gets all the publicity, isn't it?

Al: Glad I could be of help - the more people that discover this gem the better. And it really did have heart - good word - the family's grief was portrayed so realistically.

Sheep: Let me know how you like it, and if you agree with the Twin Peaks analogy.

ZedWord said...

I keep hearing about this movie. It's come up a few times on the Horror Etc. podcast. After being incredibly let down by Paranormal Activity (and not having much interest in haunting films to begin with) I kind of shrugged off seeing Lake Mungo. Maybe I'll check it out. I'm a sucker for a good, realistic mocumentary.

C.L. Hadden said...

Zed: Lake Mungo is very realistic, indeed. I myself thought Paranormal's story wasn't interesting enough - then they throw in a few jump scares for the masses. Meh. (plus the damn movie made me downright motion sick...)

I much preferred Mungo.

Heather Santrous said...

I love a good gore movie, but I also love a movie that makes me have to think things through. Gore or not, I am very happy with a movie that makes me think about it long after it is over. Lake Mungo did that and a lot more for me.

I gave up trying to figure out what the general fan base wants in their horror movies. They complain about a movie not having any kind of character developement, and then when you give them that the movie is too boring. Anyway, glad you liked this one as much as I did, and helped get some others into it as well.

Doug Halfen said...

I just watched this movie last night, and several key images (and ONE in particular) are giving me a serious case of "the creeps" (that ol' hair-tingling-on-the-back-of-your-neck" sensation) even now, at 09:00 on a sunny morning. This is the kind of expertly-crafted ghost story which (more or less) gently pushes a person in several disturbing directions before finally revealing the KEY element of horror and awfulness which drives the narrative.

Suffice to say, I did NOT see this "element" approaching -- I don't think anyone would, because the narrative spins you around so nicely, so subtly, that when it finally unties your blindfold and affords one clear glimpse into Alice's mental world..... Well, THAT would seriously mess ME up, too.

The music (or, more appropriately, the sonic layer, the sound design) in this movie is as integral to the experience as any of the (often fantastic) visuals, too. Not since "The Legend Of Hell House" (a totally-different kind of "horror" experience) has the sound played such a "role" in the proceedings.

Great stuff!!!