I would guess that at least a portion of you Fellow Fans occasionally check out some of the “paranormal reality” shows that are blanketing cable networks: Ghost Hunters, Paranormal State, Ghost Adventures, so on and so forth. Now I’m not gonna get into the authenticity of any of these, nor am I giving an opinion on the shows themselves; I just wonder if any of you ever caught an episode of one of these that had that little flare of panache, that bit of “whoa, is this for real?” that got under your skin, maybe gave you the heebie-jeebies for a bit when you saw it…
There have been several attempts to bring that kind of creep-factor into mainstream films, some pretty good, some…well, not so much. Lake Mungo gets this vibe right. Filmed like a TV documentary, the movie could convince you it’s the real deal; it seems every bit as authentic as any of the shows you catch on A&E late at night. You’re not really watching those when you’re looking for a horror flick, but sometimes they get lucky. The plot of Lake Mungo could be lifted straight from one of them:
A nice Australian family loses their sixteen-year-old daughter, Alice, on a trip to a local swimming hole. She’s missing for days, and we’re treated to some very realistic “police videos” and “news footage” as divers scour the area, interspersed with convincing family and friend interviews, discussing the panic and pain prevalent at the time. Finally, her body is found, and the family tries to move on…but it seems that Alice isn’t ready to go. Spectral sounds begin echoing through the family home, ghostly images show up in photos and on video; as we trek with this family on their search for answers through both normal and paranormal means, we learn that all is definitely not what it seems. There are a lot of twists and turns; you’ll be thinking in one direction, and suddenly something is revealed that derails that train of thought…then later, something else happens to put you right back on that track.
The film is beautifully shot; time-lapse footage and documentary filler that is prevalent on the shows it’s trying to mimic are present here, but if you pay attention, you’ll see that the director really invested some thought in the emotional value of the footage he used around the interviews and investigative scenes. The acting was very convincing; you really feel as though you’re watching a documentary; that these are real people. There are a lot of elements we discover about Alice that aren’t supernatural at all, but still have a pertinent eeeewwwwww factor (and not at all in a cutesy way; they’re actually pretty damned disturbing). Generating that above-mentioned roller coaster of tension, the film balances the mundane and the paranormal into a nice mix that keeps you guessing. At times, it can be quite chilling, with one scene in particular near the end that’s a real gotcha! moment…
…Sadly, those times are minimal. Now I want to make clear: I think Lake Mungo is a good movie; it has all of the above described elements that contribute to some real entertainment value. However, it ‘s a very slow burn, favoring atmospheric buildup over big payoffs (again, like the TV shows it’s emulating), and it’s really not what I would classify as a horror flick. Other than one scene of Alice’s poor drowned corpse, there’s not a single thing that might even resemble gore. Does it have a creepy atmosphere and some of those “whoa” moments I mentioned earlier? Sure…but so does a good episode of Criminal Minds. I think this film would have been better served being called a “psychological thriller” or a “paranormal drama”…under either of those banners, the film succeeds famously.
If you’re looking for just a creepy time in front of the television, pop this one in; for added fun, don’t tell your significant other it’s a movie. Make ’em think it’s something you flipped on the Discovery Channel. When it’s all said and done, Lake Mungo is a well written, nicely shot and competently directed little movie, and it has a definite skin-crawling, mystery-drama appeal …
…but a true horror movie, it’s not.
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