Over the past few years Australia has established itself firmly in the horror genre, and Joel Anderson’s debut feature is a fine import, produced in 2008 and now finally seeing a much-deserved wide release. This is a film tagged with the reality label but it’s much more than the ‘found footage’ style that has been so overused recently. Instead it resembles a documentary, mixing interviews, news footage, home-shot video and photographs, to create a convincing portrait of a family coping not only with a recent tragedy, but with unexpected happenings that follow.
Sixteen-year-old Alice Palmer (Talia Zucker) drowns after swimming in a dam. Her family lay her to rest after her body is recovered, and an accidental death verdict is given. In the days and weeks after they feel her presence in the house, and start to become convinced that her spirit is still with them, seeing her form in the background of photos and home movies. Disturbed, they set up cameras around the house, where further images are revealed, particularly after a parapsychologist is bought in. This leads them to the lonely stretch of water of the title, a place where the secrets of Alice’s life are revealed.
This is a softly-paced film, devoid of the jump cuts and possession nonsense that surrounded Paranormal Activity, a much inferior product that Lake Mungo may be compared to. Anderson builds tension by assembling information in a way that allows the viewer to build conclusions about what may be happening. It’s a reflective movie, without obvious violence and bloodshed, and is that much more effective for it: slow zooms into photographs that reveal a strange figure, and shadows moving along corridors, create a genuine sense of dread. A scene where Alice’s cellphone is discovered at the lake, and we find out what is contained on it, may be one of the best moments of cinema terror in recent times. The horror of Lake Mungo comes from the very real fears we face daily, and it does a superb job of conveying the pain a family experiences after death.
Beautifully-assembled and acted, and already earmarked for an unnecessary Hollywood remake, this is a frightening film that deserves greater recognition. Too often filmmakers feel the need to spell out everything, but Anderson respects the intelligence and imagination of the audience, a rarity with horror cinema. As such, Lake Mungo comes highly recommended.
Lake Mungo is available on DVD from 25 July