Best of the After Dark Horrorfest: Lake Mungo
The Best of Australian Horror
There are few films out there that are more terrifying, and yet this film delivers the terror without tons of violence or gore. There isn't a masked serial killer but something far, far worse, the truth. The film is shown as a documentary following the story of the Palmer family after the drowning death of their daughter Alice. From the opening scenes you are drawn into accepting it is real due to the superb acting by a stellar cast.
As the film rolls on you see disturbing images. Has Alice come back to haunt her family? If not where are the creepy films and photos of her spirit coming from? Subtly subplots arise, like Alice's secret life, what the family dynamic was and the terrifying truth. You may find the most frightening moments come long after the credits have rolled and you wonder if there is something lurking out there, waiting, for you.
WARNING: Massive spoliers ahead. Oh, this is an adults-only film due to certain content matter. Viewer discretion is advised.
What will scare you most about this film is how subtle it is. There is moody, rather disturbing music, but the kind you would hear in a documentary so you don't even realize it is being used to prime you for a scare. And there are plenty of scares. Ghostly sightings, witnesses other than the family capturing Alice on tape, and a far more frightening encounter at Lake Mungo than any other film has delivered in a long time.
There is also the subplot of Alice's secret life, and it will give you the chills. The secret life is played up to look as if Alice was a bad girl, but she is really the victim. When her parents find out the truth it is far too late and it makes you wonder how they could think she was ever a willing participant.
And maybe that is the scariest thing of all. Alice has visions and dreams while still alive portending her death, pointing to a terrible fate that everyone just seemed to ignore, even though near the time of her death she became moody and withdrawn. Was her death an accident or was she killed?
This film contained one subplot (there are several) that was truly scary. At one point in the film, that revolves around making a film of their life, the family finds a secret film. It shows Alice either being raped which was my view, or having a consensual relationship with the neighbors. Who of course took off after her death, clearly afraid her secret would some to life.
But there is a sense of wrongness about the family's reaction, as if she was also in some way abused at home. Not intentionally, but perhaps through neglect. Although we are told she is a happy girl she is already withdrawn and preparing for death at Lake Mungo, and her terrifying encounter only confirms her fate.
What frightened me most, to be honest is her sense of finality. She never shows people the proof she has, maybe because even though she has a vivid dream of her death and is seeking help elsewhere everyone ignores her pleas.
Lake Mungo Trailer
Most Frightening Moments
To me the most terrifying moments were the encounter at Lake Mungo, which scared me so bad I'm writing the review in daylight, and a few scenes after the film is seemingly over that show you the true horror of Alice's fate. I am seriously getting the chills even writing this, so you know those scenes freaked me out.
Because I grew up in the age of video cameras and although as the movie points out you can fake footage, by and large cameras do not lie. What Alice films at Lake Mungo and what you see at the end of the film are truly horrifying if you accept the shots as real. Because if they aren't faked, well poor Alice is trapped forever where she is.
I think that was the scariest part of the film. In that after so many hoaxes are exposed there is real footage that was missed. And if it was part of the documentary why wasn't Alice's family ever shown the footage as proof she was there? This film is an excellent example of how horror can be subtle yet still terrifying.
There is a real Lake Mungo
Why is this film so scary?
There aren't massive amounts of blood or violence. But one factor that freaked me out was the rape scene. Yes there are debates on IMDB on whether it is rape or not since she wasn't running away, but she is drugged out of her mind and either screaming or crying. What makes it worse is that her oblivious father then decides it is consensual. Say what?
Also there is something about the footage on Alice's camera. By the time you see it you are already freaked out, so what is revealed is all the much scarier. The film has been called psychological horror and that's a fair description, because it still bothers me that Alice never sought help. Did she want or feel fated to die?
Then come the ending reveals of seemingly true ghostly images. Is it one more hoax? Or something we the viewers missed. That is rather frightening because it implies a doppelganger or ghost of our own could be lurking and waiting for us. And what is more frightening then to see your own death?