Theatrical Poster for LAKE MUNGO - image source: IMP Awards
Theatrical Poster for LAKE MUNGO – image source: IMP Awards

LAKE MUNGO: Story Summary

Written and directed by Joel Anderson, this film explores the mysterious circumstances of a drowning death and the paranormal events that follow it. Sixteen year-old Alice Palmer (Talia Zucker) disappears while on a family outing. Although none of her family members witnessed her drowning, police divers eventually recover her corpse from the bottom of the reservoir where she had been swimming. Shortly thereafter, strange sounds and other phenomena start to occur at the family home. Her mother, June (Rose Traynor), starts to have nightmares in which Alice appears. Her father, Russell (David Pledger), immerses himself in his work to escape grief. Her brother, Mathew (Martin Sharpe), becomes preoccupied with amateur photography and videography. June, however, cannot sleep because of her nightmares; she spends the nights on long outdoor walks, during which she sometimes enters other people’s homes. Her own home feels strange to her; she believes that it is haunted by Alice’s ghost. She sinks deeper into despair. Eventually, she calls in to a psychic’s talk-radio program for help. She manages to convince her husband and son to participate in a consultation with the psychic, Ray Kemeny (Steve Jodrell). Ray and Mathew set up video cameras that apparently capture images of Alice’s spirit haunting the family home. Eventually, the family discovers that Alice had been hiding a videotape that reveals a secret sexual affair. A series of clues then leads the family to Lake Mungo, where the rest of Alice’s hidden past (which involves her own parapsychological experiences) emerges.

LAKE MUNGO: Discussion

“Lake Mungo” (2008) is an Australian release that puts a different spin on the found-footage style of horror film-making. It incorporates handheld video segments by embedding them in a TV news documentary format. The level-headed, sensible reporting style used in this format contrasts effectively with embedded amateur videos and still photography that present the paranormal side of the the film.

The choice to make the film as a faux doc leads to a somewhat understated, subtle presentation of the paranormal side of the story. This story constantly undermines itself by introducing new information that throws doubt upon what has already been presented as “fact” by the documentary. As a result, it repeatedly shocks the viewer out of the state of complacency into which the documentary style has lulled him or her.

“Lake Mungo” is also a film for the more cerebral horror fan, as it is primarily psychological in its approach. Aside from one gruesomely-decomposed corpse, there is very little gore. In fact, some might not even classify it as a horror film, as it is more of a family drama caused by a mystery involving the paranormal. This interpretation is reinforced by a montage of actual photographs of the paranormal that bookend the main action of the film.

Although I was impressed by the film’s clever use of the news documentary format and by its subtle, almost literary way of undermining its own story, I was bored by its rather slow pace. I also did not feel at all scared by its presentations of death and the paranormal. I gave this film 2.5 out of 5 stars on Rotten Tomatoes.

The trailer makes the film seem much more fast-paced and terrifying than it actually is: