Title– Lake Mungo (2008)
Running Time– 87 minutes
Director– Joel Anderson
Writer– Joel Anderson
Starring– Talia Zucker, Rosie Traynor, David Pledger, Martin Sharpe, Steve Jodrell
Lake Mungo is one of eight horror films of the annual After Dark Horrorfest. These movies are interesting because they are generally niche horror movies that wouldn’t do well in a full-scaled theatrical release (though there are some theatres that do play the After Dark series, they are in limited runs, and not available in every state across the country; check out the After Dark website to see if there is a theatre near you), so they are released, instead, as a festival called “8 Films to Die For”. Usually, these are a mixed bag; sometimes the viewer gets lucky and there are 5+ good movies and only 3 or so “meh” ones. I am planning on going through all 8 films that were released earlier this year and seeing how After Dark Horrofest 4 shapes up.
First on the gamut is the Australian-based Lake Mungo. The movie starts out at a lake (but not Lake Mungo) where the Palmer family is struck with an unthinkable disaster: their sixteen-year-old daughter, Alice, drowns. Unfortunately for them, this is the only the beginning of their story. Just a few weeks after her death, the family starts hearing things in their house, specifically coming from Alice’s bedroom. Her brother, Mathew, even finds Alice in a photo he takes of the backyard. They try to call in Ray, a psychic, for guidance and that is when the life of this sixteen-year-old begins to come to light for the family.
Writer and director Joel Anderson delivers Lake Mungo from a faux-documentary standpoint, and I thought this was an excellent way to present the film. However, whenever a director presents something in this way, it requires more from the actors to make the script believable. That is exactly what the actors were able to do: make a difficult story believable. Martin Sharpe was excellent as the oddball brother, and Rosie Traynor and David Pledger brought a sympathy to their parts as mother and father that was necessary to have a successful film. Steve Jodrell, the psychic, added good depth to the supporting cast and helped immerse me in the film.
Unfortunately, the script starts to implode on itself thanks to the many plot twists and turns Anderson tries to squish in in less than a couple of hours. These twists made the movie interesting, there’s no doubt about that, but there were some unanswered questions, and points that were touched on once for no apparent reason (because they were never brought up again, and never explained). I believe that if a director/writer writes something into a film/play/book/whatever, there needs to be some significance behind it – or better, it needs to be justified – and there were a couple things that didn’t meet this criteria for me.
Coming in to Lake Mungo, I had expected a Ring/Grudge type of horror film, but that is not what I got at all. This isn’t a bad thing, it was just unexpected. Anderson delivers more of a psychological/paranormal horror movie, or the “send chills up your spine” type of horror movie as opposed to a jumpy experience like The Grudge, and it’s important for would-be viewers to understand this coming in so they are not disappointed. I was more creeped out while watching the movie than ever truly scared, but I appreciate that as well. This movie definitely falls on the soft side of the “R” rating as there is no blood, no visible nudity (though there is a sex scene), and mild language. There are brief scenes of horror (you see Alice’s body after it had been submerged underwater for days), but these are nowhere near as bad most horror movies are today.
Lake Mungo is a good movie, and absolutely one I will check off as an asset to After Dark Horrorfest 4. Some viewers might have a hard time swallowing the twisty script, and may not enjoy this type of creepy horror as much as the in-your-face types, but I think it is subtle enough to give anyone goosebumps. The acting is top-notch, and the Australian scenery is as beautiful as ever (it was filmed in Australia). If the viewer knows what they are getting coming in, Lake Mungo could be an interesting ride.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.