31 Nights of Frights #1: Lake Mungo

Australia: 2008

Alice kept secrets. She kept the fact that she kept secrets a secret.”

In the wake of The Blair Witch Project there were an immediate glut of releases (Some of which will be coming up I’m sure) that cashed in on the ‘found footage’ craze. While it wasn’t the first film to use that conceit, it’s not hard to argue the case that BWP, as the hip kids called it, effectively gave birth to the genre or at least the genre as it exists today.

These range from good ([Rec]) to mediocre (The St. Francisville Experiment) or just so bad they remain unreleased (The Poughkeepsie Tapes).

So which is Lake Mungo?

First off, the story. Alice Palmer drowns in the titular lake and afterward we see her family come to grips with the fact that she’s been spotted since. She’s seen in family photo’s, she’s caught on video hanging out by the lake; Alice is a ghost.

It feels odd to classify the film as a horror, as it ostensibly only has one scare scene (A scare scene that happens to be fantastic) but it’s more interested instead in trying to unravel the mystery of what exactly is going on. The film manages to maintain being unsettling without ever really being scary, and the plot weaves in a few twists and turns throughout as you’re kept guessing as to whether Alice really is a ghost or whether it’s just all a big hoax.

Lake Mungo is a film about grief, about how we deal with the idea of someone close to us dying. Ghosts, by their nature, are inherently sad. They have to be. They’re just echoes of something that was once alive, left to watch the world move by without them, aware of their fate. It’s this idea that breathes throughout Lake Mungo and it’s good to see a film that doesn’t present the idea of ghosts as evil, or something that needs to be thwarted (Indeed there is a Psychic introduced into the film, but again things don’t go as expected).

As it is I’ve probably said too much about the film, but I’ve been trying to avoid getting too specific. Part of the joy of watching Lake Mungo is not knowing where it’s going. I’m not sure whether that holds up to repeat viewings. But I look forward to finding out.

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