Thursday, October 04, 2012

Lake Mungo


2008 ****1/2

Lake Mungo is one of those fake documentaries that seems so genuine right away I fought an impulse to look it up just to make sure. The form is used with staggering effectiveness, setting itself up to be the slowest of burns.

Sixteen-year-old Alice Palmer goes swimming with her older brother while their family is on a picnic. He goes back first because he's cold, and nobody ever sees her again. The terrible night is relived in the accounts of family and friends, maintaining dry composure for the cameras. The chain of events -- going home, the police finding her body, identifying the body -- is simply horrible in its banality. Simply real.

These performances are crucial, not only to be convincing but to show the full spectrum of what it means for a family to sustain such a huge loss. They retreat into themselves when they could possibly provide more comfort for each other. As it's revealed that Alice herself felt lonely and isolated, it's sad that mourning her is making her family members even more so. I must add that the actors' Australian accents did wonders for me, they seemed perfectly sincere as they dryly opened up about how closed they are.

This foundation of real, deep grief is what defines the horror in this movie. As strange phenomena do occur, you start to wonder how it would make you feel to see an apparation of a dead loved one. Terrified? Angry? Hopeful? Rooting out Alice's feelings during her last months alive as her family copes with their own, the story finds both the key to the mystery and the oppressive theme: what if the bridge between life and death is lonliness?

The strange phenomena all involve photos and video footage, and here is where I have my one gripe with this movie. I didn't notice at first because I was so willing to fully buy into the realism of the form, but some of the clues are pretty unrealistic. Photos taken at the picnic site contain an image of Alice in the background, but it's soooo far in the background it seems silly that anyone would spot it. Another reveal is that a certain character knew Alice when she was alive and there's no good reason why this wasn't been mentioned sooner. There are others, but it's not worth giving anything away.

These are quibbles and easily forgiven. I was in a slightly skeptical state when the movie delivered its scary punch line, and then a tingle went from my toes all the way up to the back of my neck and my doubts just drained away. It's not many movies that can still do that.

I don't want to oversell, but it really worked for me. I highly recommend Lake Mungo. Even if it doesn't scare you, it's an engaging and thoughtful movie.

10 comments:

Landshark said...

Cool. This is another one I put in my cue after checking back over the recommended thread. I'll wait to read your review until I watch it.

50PageMcGee said...

nice.

there seems to be a special kind of satisfaction in thon reviews that's reserved for good movies about ghosts. it's different from the love we give a strong zombie movie, for example. ghosts are kind of an underdog in modern horror -- i'm having trouble articulating why.

is anyone else feeling this?

Catfreeek said...

I hear ya 50, ghost stories are rarely well done and I believe the ones that work, like this film rely more on the behavior of the living then the popping up of the dead. In other words, less is more. It's much scarier to know there is something there without seeing. When there finally is a reveal, your more apt to get a reaction like Octo had. Most modern ghost stories rely way to much on cgi effects, they just aren't scary.

Octopunk said...

I think ghosts' poor communication skills (as JSP has recently been harping on) have a lot to do with it. In the right story the mystery of what the dead want can be compelling, in the wrong story it's just annoying.

JPX said...

I'm do glad you liked this, it was one of my favorites last year! Did you stay through the closing credits and really examine the pictures? Great, spine-tingling stuff! I found the film to be creepy but also really sad.

Octopunk said...

Oh right, make sure you watch the credits! (Which I did.)

Johnny Sweatpants said...

Wow, today has been a fun day for 'thon reading. Great review Octo! I watched this last November (JPX hounded me until I caved) and really dug it.

DCD said...

I remember JPX's recommendation of this flick. Just added it to my queue!

AC said...

just put it at the top of the queue!

AC said...

sounds like this might be truly scary rather than just startling, always a big plus in my book.