GORE IN THE STORE
LAKE MUNGO ****
Directed by Joel Anderson.
Starring Talia Zucker, Rosie Traynor, David Pledger, Martin Sharpe, Steve Jodrell.
Horror/Mockumentary, Australia, 87 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Limited Edition Blu-ray by Second Sight Films on 7th June 2021. RRP £24.99.
LAKE MUNGO is an intriguingly oblique title. What could it possibly be about? The members of Mungo Jerry creating a themed holiday resort? Sadly, no. However, just like the singers of “In the Summertime”, the family at the heart of Joel Anderson’s low budget Australian mockumentary also have a woman on their mind. Unfortunately for them, that woman is the restless ghost of their recently deceased daughter.
In the years since its 2008 release, LAKE MUNGO has accumulated quite the cult following, frequently featuring in online lists of the best underrated horror movies. Now is the perfect time to discover what the fuss is about as Second Sight Films are releasing a lovingly curated Blu-ray edition of this chilling cult classic.
The film presents itself as a documentary on the Palmer family from the sleepy Australian city of Ararat. Their 16-year-old daughter, Alice (Talia Zucker), tragically drowned whilst swimming in a local dam and, ever since, her family have started experiencing strange phenomena in the house. Her mother June (Rosie Traynor) can’t shake persistent nightmares where a sopping wet Alice visits her and her father Martin (David Pledger) keeps hearing noises coming from Alice’s empty room. Things reach a breaking point when the brother Mathew (Martin Sharpe) discovers what looks like an image of his sister in a photo of their garden… that he’d taken after her death. This is just the start of many twists and turns; a secret videotape, a buried phone containing disturbing footage and strange diary entries relating to Alice’s recent trip to Lake Mungo.
Mockumentary and found footage horror have now mostly gone out of vogue. LAKE MUNGO uses these tropes but it’s on the much classier end of the scale, and this format lends itself to the story that it’s trying to tell, rather than seeming gimmicky.
The attempt to replicate a naturalistic documentary feel is mostly seamless. The DoP mentions in one of the Blu-ray special features that they wanted channel surfers catching the film mid-way, without context, to believe that it is real. I think that works, apart from maybe the credulity stretching last third when secret diaries and illicit rendezvous revelations get a bit too TWIN PEAKS (the surname Palmer is obviously not a coincidence). However, the film never indulges in too much melodrama or cheesy genre tropes. For instance, when the psychic Ray Kemeny (Steve Jodrell) is introduced, he isn’t some overblown eccentric, just a fairly normal old bloke. All the actors do a fantastic job and do seem to be legitimately grieving and distressed.
It’s lacking in jump scares, and gore, but still kept me unnerved and tense with a palpable sense of dread running throughout. This isn’t a horror film for everyone, it’s not THE CONJURING style of fast paced scares to watch with a couple of beers and chat through with your friends. It’s a much more sombre, pensive and unsettling experience. On the whole it’s more sad than scary and, as much as it’s about ghosts, it’s also about how families grieve.
This Blu-ray release looks great, especially for a film from 2008 that was shot on such a low budget, and it gets to showcase the many foreboding and evocative shots of the lonely Australian landscapes.
There are lengthy and informative special features (the interview with the DoP alone is around 45 minutes!) including two audio commentaries, deleted scenes, detailed interviews with the cast, crew and fans of the film and two video essays. Any question that a fan had about the making of the movie will surely be answered somewhere on this disc. I can’t really think of anything else that could have been added. So, if you were already a fan, it’s certainly worth getting this release to find out more about the movie and to see such a good quality print.
Overall LAKE MUNGO is certainly not going to appeal to everyone. It will likely bore those that enjoy more in-your-face horror, and the lack of any levity or lightness will put others off who want something a bit more fun. However, for those that like slow burning moody chills LAKE MUNGO is a haunting experience in every sense of the word.