I’m not quite sure when or why it happened, but it seems like every cable channel has a paranormal/ghost hunting type of show on heavy rotation now. Even Animal Planet has Lost Tapes and Haunted. I’m not sure of the animal connection to those shows. Marlin Perkins and Mutual of Omaha must be rolling in their graves… I’ll admit to watching the ghost hunting shows on occasion, and while I’m a world-class scardey cat, these shows don’t bother me or scare me in the least. The best of these shows, for my money was MTVs Fear, where vacuous knuckleheads went to old creepy buildings, and its premise was new enough for me to achieve some popcorn-creepy moments. That said, these shows generally do not have an iota of creep factor because I do not believe in ghosts (he says in a well lit office), and the non-fiction, TV show format, with cheap production values and telegraphed plot lines, invites/begs for snark and skepticism.
LAKE MUNGO is a faux-documentary about the grieving family of sixteen-year-old Alice Palmer who drowns in Lake Mungo. Much of the story is told through interviews with her parents, her brother, a psychic and other locals. This isn’t a cheap hand/jumpy-cam first person POV thing. It’s actual documentary-style filmmaking, and the filmmakers know how to use the style. Sweeping shots of the wide, stretched out Australian spaces, big empty sky, acts as a reflection of the depth of grief the family struggles to understand. It’s really a story about grief. There are heartbreaking moments where little pieces of the characters are revealed that are so odd and genuine (like a shot of her Dad driving home in reverse because he couldn’t be bothered to call a tow truck or walk all the way home), if it were a real documentary, this sort of knowledge would feel voyeuristic, intrusive.
While Mungo is about grief, it’s also a clever mystery. For a person who spends zero live time on screen, building the mystery of Alice (what happened to her, yeah, but more than that, the mystery of who she was) is an impressive achievement.
And, oh yeah, this movie is genuinely creepy and scary as hell.
Shortly after her death, her family starts to experience the familiar paranormal phenomena we’ve all heard about, even if we haven’t been watching, um, Animal Planet. Her brother captures some odd images in photos and on video camera. But it gets and goes weirder from there. I really don’t want to give away any of the story twists or scares: just know there were scenes I could barely watch. I had to look away from the screen during two particularly intense scenes, scenes that felt personal to me, like they’d lifted them right out of my own nightmares. I couldn’t handle it. And the ending is quiet, dignified, and real, and I said aloud, “Oh no,” to no one, because I was alone in my house watching it in the dark. (Yeah, bad move).
Unlike the ghost hunter shows (which are purported to be real real real) Lake Mungo is fiction. Lake Mungo scared and moved me more than all of those shows combined. And it’s more than just the power of willingly giving yourself over to fiction. This little movie about grief and secrets is creepy at a downright cellular level.
If I’d seen the movie before making my top 74 horror movie list, Lake Mungo would’ve made my top ten. Easily.
(Special thanks goes out to Nadia Bulkin who made me watch this movie)