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.
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