I tend react with an automatic eye-rolling reflex to found footage films. For every The Blair With Project, there are 10 low-budget debacles that don’t deserve consideration. However, every once in while someone is able to unlock the power of the found footage style to deliver a genuinely terrifying movie. Lake Mungo, directed by Joel Anderson, not only achieves that, but takes the art to new heights.
Lake Mungo – The Death of Alice Palmer
This is the story of the Palmer family. Recently, they have recently lost their daughter, Alice, to a drowning accident at the dam in Ararat, Australia. The film is setup in a documentary style and consists of interviews with family members. The story follows the family as they deal with the initial loss of their daughter.
Eerily, images of Alice start showing up in family photos. Apparitions of Alice start to appear. As the family continues to investigate, they learn of Alice’s secrets, some of them very dark. Eventually, these secrets lead them to Alice’s phone, buried under a tree in the dried up bed of Lake Mungo. Ultimately, what found footage on the phone reveals absolutely terrifies them.
Making a Modern Classic
The director Joel Anderson makes a few critical decisions that set the foundation for this movie. First, Anderson cast the film with unknown actors. Second, instead of scripting every line, many were improvised. Both of these techniques go a long way to creating a believable documentary atmosphere.
Because every conversation feels candid and spontaneous, the viewer is drawn into the dark spiral of despair. Because the actors are unknown, nothing tempts the reality that this family really lost a daughter that they loved dearly.
Documenting the Horror of Grief
The documentary style of Lake Mungo is wholly effective at not only feeling authentic, but also channeling the grief of the Palmer family to the audience. The film resists jump scares and typical found footage scare tactics in favor of oppressive grief and subtle hints of Alice’s continued presence, long after death. The effect grows slowly and methodically over the duration of the film.
The impromptu style radiates the uncertain anguish that a family would feel after such an event. The stark realism forces the you to sympathize with the characters. This sympathy draws you deep into the circle. Once in the circle, Anderson is able to effortlessly set the table for a terrifying finale.
The Ghosts of Alice
At the first moment the family starts to see apparitions in family photos, the hair raises on the back of the neck. The pacing from this moment on is like a roller-coaster ascent in total darkness. Eventually, this leads to a precipitous drop that literally raises goosebumps as I type. The result is masterful modern ghost story that fills the viewer with dread and sadness, and then terrifying bewilderment.
Lake Mungo, Found Footage Brilliance
I intentionally left this review short. For those that have not seen it, it felt criminal to spoil the movie. This is the first movie to truly frighten me in decades. Apart from chilling the bones, it creates a pit of despair that remains long after the movie ends.
This movie is incredible. Joel Anderson skillfully takes the audience on an emotional journey. Once he has the viewers hand, he completely guides the view through both the horror and beauty of the tale. Lake Mungo deftly demonstrates the art of the found footage film. It is a modern horror classic and any fan of the genre should check this one. It will leave you cold.
Lake Mungo (2008) - Found Footage Greatness - Malevolent Dark
Director: Joel Anderson
Date Created: 2008-01-01 00:00