My Review of Lake Mungo, One Unsettling Motion Picture

For a very long time, I have been on a quest to find a truly frightening, truly unsettling, scary movie. It’s not an easy quest. The last one to achieve that lofty bar was The Ring, a movie that required a high degree of suspension of disbelief, but was pretty horrifying if you were able to accomplish it. I have seen many unsettling movies in the past few years—Irreversible, Inside, Audition to name a few—but these movies, while disturbing, aren’t all that frightening.

When I started Lake Mungo, I wasn’t expecting to find anything that was able to quench my thirst for horror, and maybe that’s why I ended up enjoying it so much.  A movie that was part of the failed and, on my part at least, much missed, After Dark Horrorfest, Lake Mungo was a pleasant surprise, one that stuck with me well after the cameras stopped rolling.

Lake Mungo is a mockumentary, kin to, but not the same as, the recent spate of “found footage” films that have graced the big screen for the last decade. It incorporates many of that sub-genre’s strengths, while lacking its fundamental weakness—would anyone really be filming in this situation? I give you the movie synopsis:

Sixteen-year-old Alice Palmer drowns while swimming in the local dam. When her body is recovered and a verdict of accidental death returned, her grieving family buries her. The family then experiences a series of strange and inexplicable events centered in and around their home. Profoundly unsettled, the Palmers seek the help of psychic and parapsychologist, Ray Kemeny. But as their investigation continues, they soon discover they didn’t really know their daughter at all.

Lake Mungo starts off slow. Real slow. The first fifteen minutes or so were not easy to get through, but I’ll forgive the filmmakers because the relationship they establish with the viewer in those beginning scenes probably does a lot to accentuate the level of tension and the level of participation by the audience.

The acting in Lake Mungo is of a quality one doesn’t often see in a horror movie. The actors are required to portray ordinary people going through the extraordinary pain of losing a child. And let me tell you, they pull it off. It is nearly impossible to watch Lake Mungo and not believe you are watching a real documentary. And that’s what makes the movie so creepy.

There are no jump shots in this movie. There’s very little gore. There’s nothing about Lake Mungo that is particularly scary. But the totality of the experience is decidedly unsettling. By the end of the movie, my hair was standing on end and I was beginning to look over my shoulder, that feeling that I was not alone starting to creep in.

I think the brilliance of Lake Mungo lies in its mid-movie twist. Up until that point, Lake Mungo seems like a pretty standard paranormal haunting film. But then everything changes, and everything gets much weirder, much more interesting, and much more scary. And that’s the point, isn’t it?

I would definitely recommend Lake Mungo to horror fans, particularly those who enjoy paranormal frights. It’s not a perfect movie, and I am sure some people will find it to be boring in the extreme. But if you let it take hold, I can promise you it won’t let go.

4.5 Stars


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8 responses to “My Review of Lake Mungo, One Unsettling Motion Picture

  1. r.anderson

    Was very disappointed, when I found out brother had tampered with footage, was hard for me to believe anything else…felt so fake. ..thumbs down….

  2. dysfiction

    I enjoes the hell out of this little film. And yes — that “twist” came so far out of left field, (but didn’t feel like the movie was trying to “cheat” us as viewers in any way, the way some horror movies throw you a curveball from Mars for no reason other than trying to catch you off guard with events that come across as stupid and desperate… Like, “If we can’t reel you in by this eerie, haunting, slow burn tale, we’ll certainly settle for pure cheap shock value, cuz a WTF is better than nothing!”

    THAT was a wtf, shock, and genuinely creepy-as-$hit moment; that scene is surely the one to which you referred. I was watching on the couch with a family member, dark and rainy out, and as that scene began and As the cell started out from a distance, slowly moving closer, we both sat up and leaned toward the screen, trying to figure out just what the hell we were looking at… And we were like…. “What. Is Going. On… *What am I looking at…* And then just Holy Crap. Everyone does have certain elements in which horror has in abundance it seems, but dude, That got me. Good. Or, bad, lol.

    Just one of those scenes that get stuck in my weird-out filter and refuses to go away, it seems. I can’t watch that particular moment again. A peek-through-the-fingers thing.

    I thought the whole film was marvelously done, also. As the other poster who mentioned being somewhat bored, oh, the brother was doing this or that… I really (being sincere here) hope you feel like giving it another look at some point. Because there was waaay more going on there, in my opinion, and the brother certainly didnt do…. Everything. Mwa. 🙂 seriously, try it maybe once more, pay close careful attention to some of the details happening as her family grieves. I think, and hope, you will spot more underfoot. It is or was such a wild movie to me.

    cheers! Now it is middle of the night and I have to try to sleep, Aack

  3. The First 15 minutes killed me initially because everyone was so restrained but I heard so much good feedback I tried again. Worth it. Great film.

  4. Rachael

    True paranormal scare fans will appreciate this movie…atleast the 2nd time through. There’s a lot to process but once I did, I realized it was brilliant from start to finish. Lake Mungo has ruined me for other horror films…it makes me exactly the kind of scared I want to be.

  5. Hi, there. I totally agree with what you have wrote. This movie, in my opinion, deserve much more appreciation then what it has achieved today. I have been through almost all modern horror movie that fulfilled with jump-shit shoots and eerie motion background without ever reached the point of horror itself.

    Back then, i really appreciate your point of view on found-footage horror genre nowadays. And damn, i really agree, once more, with what you have said that this movie gripping my shoulder and choking my throat at its end.

    I really love this movie. A perfect blend of pure drama, pure grieve, with pure horror itself. Nothing really equal with this movie ever since. I only found “It Follows” which was almost, only almost, left me wandering with sudden creep started to startling my neck.

    Thank for the great review.

  6. Wax Paper

    Try out Noroi, as well as another one made by the same director (Kôji Shiraishi) called Occult. The latter is on YouTube, since I don’t think there’s been a North American release. Both are excellent. Noroi employs the same kind of unsettling, supernatural horror (in the same docu-style, too). It’s actually my all-time favorite horror movie; stuck with me for weeks. Occult might also be right up your alley, since it has elements of cosmic horror, which is unusual for Japanese horror.

  7. Barry Slaven

    How can anyone be satisfied with this woeful film?
    The acting is abysmal, and none of them convey anything remotely similar to genuine grief.
    The pace of the film is so slow it makes snails look like rockets.
    There are three shots of ghosts, which in a film described as a ghost film, is appalling. No jump scares, no suspense, just a badly acted family recounting a painfully boring script without ever feeling like its getting anywhere.

    Without a doubt this film, along with the babadook, are the two worst films I’ve seen in as long as I care to remember.

    If you’re reading this before watching lake mungo, take my advice and watch the conjuring instead.
    This will just bore you to death.

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