Night #25: Lake Mungo

A bit of a deliberate change of pace tonight, a little something that suits my mood (In which this dreaded cold was going away and now has come back bigger and badder).

This is a story about ghosts.

Or rather it’s a story about a ghost, a death of a young girl that ripples out among those who knew her best. Alice Palmer went swimming a lake on an outing with her family and never came back. From there her family face some inexplicable goings-on as they try and make sense of what happened to their daughter. They believe she’s still around, at least in spirit, trying to make her presence known.

The film seeks to unravel the accident and the events that followed and it’s fantastic at evoking the countless documentaries of this nature (There’s plenty to be found on Netflix). Having seen my fair share of them it gets everything right: The news reports, the maudlin music, the shots of the family in ‘happier’ times. It’s all here. From there on out the film manages a deft balancing act and then undermining your expectations. It’s easy to think you know where it’s going at about 20 minutes into it, but it takes a few left turns and builds to an extraordinary, and heart-wrenching, ending.

There’s nothing that’s outright ‘scary’ about the film. There’s really no scares or jump scenes as such, but it is quietly unsettling as it reveals the details leading up to, and after Alice’s death. There are moments here that reminded me of David Lynch and the issues it touches on reminds me of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and anyone that knows me knows that I find the films of Mr Lynch deeply unsettling on a primal level.

There are some plot issues that don’t make an incredible amount of sense when you think about it (A lot of the reveals make sense in a narrative point of view, but when they’re revealed doesn’t make a whole lot of real world sense) and there’s one or two occasions where the film picks up a thread and discards it, but the film manages to pass over that with the atmosphere it creates. Even the performances work, thank god, so many found footage films fail because of the ‘naturalistic’ acting, but here it isn’t a problem. According to the behind the scenes stuff it’s largely improvised which helps these people actually sound like real people. They stumble, stutter and sometimes talk over each other in a way that doesn’t feel rehearsed. It’s a minor touch but it all adds to the overall effect of the piece.

Lake Mungo is, at heart, a film about grief and loss, in particular how we deal with that. It’s also about the secrets people keep, and the devastating effects of not feeling like you can reach out. It’s a metaphorical film, rather than ‘there’s something spooky in the attic’ and at heart is the case study of a girl who had loving friends and family, but who was ultimately alone. It’s a great achievement in that it pulls back the curtain to show you how it all works before revealing the curtain wasn’t where you thought it was at all.

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