Lake Mungo (2008)
By: Devon B. on March 11, 2010  | 
Madman | Region 4, PAL | 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 5.1 | 83 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Joel Anderson
Starring: Talia Zucker, Rosie Traynor, David Pledger, Martin Sharpe, Steve Jodrell
Screenplay: Joel Anderson
Country: Australia
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Years ago, Eddie Murphy had a routine about how stupidly white people behave in ghosts movies and how he couldn't believe the lengths white people would go to in these films to stay in their haunted houses. The makers of Lake Mungo have found a decent explanation for the characters sticking around in their possibly haunted house by making the ethereal presence that of a recently deceased love one.

In 2005, a girl from the small Victorian town of Ararat drowns. Shortly after her funeral her family begin hearing unexplained noises in her room, and then a mysterious image of the girl appears on a photograph her brother takes of the back yard. The brother begins trying to document his departed sister's presence, and the family struggle to come to terms with their loss and possible re-gaining of their dead relative.

Lake Mungo is a mocumentary, except it's not meant to be funny, so it's more of a fake documentary, or a focumentary if you will. The documentary style is usually very well done, though there is one small, and unnecessary, element that completely destroys any sense of realism the film has been working to build. That's just one story flaw, and there're many other plot points that are absolutely fascinating, like the mother's creepy behaviour shortly after the daughter's death, so overall the story is very well laid out. There is one angle to the story that was completely unexpected, and a brave move on the filmmakers' part, and they pull it off with resounding success.

The acting is mostly understated, which helps keep the proceedings grounded, but sometimes the interviewees are just too calm given the events they're describing. Often the subdued behaviour is explainable within the story or within the structure of the film (ie the characters are being interviewed well after whatever event they're talking about has happened), but there are a couple of moments where they are too restrained. The performances are otherwise very solid, and coupled with some nice nuances in the filming process they give Lake Mungo the feel of a legit doco.

The obvious comparison at the moment is Paranormal Activity, but Lake Mungo isn't a jump scare movie; it develops an eerie feeling throughout the whole piece, and doesn't reset the mood each scene like Paranormal Activity. The best thing about this is because Lake Mungo draws you in gradually, it is able to develop a popcorn-flinging moment that's so effective it worked on me again even with the commentary track on. It's also far less obvious than Paranormal Activity, and is by far the better made, better constructed film.

The film's already slated for a remake, so if you avoided it because it was Australian, maybe you can check it out in a sanitised PG-13 edition in a year or so.
This is a bit of a moot point because the film is meant to be a doco so therefore has a variety of source materials, each with intentionally varying levels of quality. The footage shot by the doco crew, which is most of the film, is very sharp and clear, with only minor grain.
The disc has a DTS mix, but I am still using my free player that Sanity gave away years ago and don't have DTS capabilities. Who would've thought that player would last so long...Anyway, I can't imagine the DTS adds much because the film's a focumentary so most of the time it's people being interviewed, and that all naturally comes from the centre speaker. The score does swirl around nicely, and there are some brilliant ghostly sound effects.
Extra Features
The DVD comes with a commentary, deleted and extended scenes, the trailer, and trailers for other Madman titles. Of the deleted scenes, there is one that might have been worth keeping in the film because it adds a layer to the tragedy and helps explain one plot point. The commentary is with the DP/co-producer John Brawley and co-producer/script editor David Rapsey. They explain the film's intricacies and intentions well, but I'm it may've been better to leave this film unexplained. The commentary isn't bad and boasts a wealth of information on how the filmmakers captured a documentary feel. The only thing lacking from the DVD is some direct input from writer/director Joel Anderson, but otherwise this is a nice package.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
After being disappointed with a few local horror flicks, I'm glad to say Lake Mungo is effective and engaging. It's is certainly a slow builder, and perhaps it's a little too slow at times, but it's got a lot to get through and it often has to present things subtly. It is The Last Broadcast to Paranormal Activity's The Blair Witch Project, the lesser known but far superior effort that will greatly reward those that seek it out.

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