Lake Mungo (2008)

Lake Mungo is the sort of film that’s better when you go in blind and for that reason, I’ll try to keep the details to a minimum. It’s ridiculously creepy with an atmosphere of brooding tension and is a perfect example of low budget filmmaking at its best.

Australia has had something of a horror resurgence in recent years with some fantastic titles to its name. Wolf Creek, Dying Breed, Rogue, Acolytes, The Tunnel and Storage are all worthy additions to the already impressive cannon of horror down-under but Lake Mungo is head and shoulders above them all.

Often incorrectly called a found footage movie, Lake Mungo certainly utilises found footage elements but is instead presented as a documentary. It’s insanely convincing too. The acting from everyone involved is pitch perfect. Whether this is intentional or not is unclear as documentary interviewees often appear stilted and I’d imagine that’s difficult to fake. Whether it was intentional or not, the result is near perfection and it’d be easy to understand that someone unaware it was fiction might be under the impression it was a genuine documentary, until the creepier elements come into play.

At the heart of the story is death. The Palmer family are mourning the loss of their daughter Alice who drowned while they were on vacation. Since her death there have been strange goings on in the family home and it soon comes to light that Alice was more secretive than anyone imagined.

The first half of this film is barely horror. It’s a sensitive portrayal of a family in mourning, in their own words. Watching the parents and brother come to terms with Alice’s death is, at times, heartbreaking and you almost feel like you’re intruding on some very private emotions. That soon gives way to the paranormal element though and once that starts, there’s no time for heartache. Having said that, one of the creepier scenes that sent shivers down my spine had nothing at all to do with anything paranormal which is testament to Lake Mungo’s impressive restraint and subtlety combined with intelligent storytelling.

There’s no real score or soundtrack to guide your emotions, you have nothing but the images on screen and accounts from the main characters to help you along and it’s immersive stuff. It’s easy to feel sucked into their terrifying journey as they become increasingly convinced of their daughters presence in their home. Through nothing but the use of some spooky, heavily grainy imagery, the filmmakers achieve what so many of their Hollywood counterparts fail to; a remarkably atmospheric and terrifying film. It’s certainly a film that relies on the audiences imagination working overtime and it does so in a very clever manner.

Lake Mungo is back to basics storytelling, it’s well paced, superbly acted and creepier than all of the Paranormal Activity films put together without the cheap scares. It’s genius in its simplicity and the makers should be proud of themselves. Essential viewing. Watch it in the dark with a comfort blanket!

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

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