Lake Mungo (2008)
If you've never seen a ghost... Look closer.
What do you do in the summer? Go to the lake! I heard of this somewhere, I don’t recall where though to be honest - most likely one of the people I watch for movie-based review and retrospective entertainment on Youtube. Regardless, I had heard of it and it struck me as something I should check out enough to place in in the queue, and the description has everything that I should dig in a spooky shoot - supernatural, mystery, and maybe even murder? Get on your drop bear repellent, it’s time we go to the land down under for tonight’s entry: Lake Mungo.
I can talk the ears off a door, but I might even have trouble stretching this one out when it comes to review form. Particularly if I don’t talk about the plot at all, which kind of stinks given it’s more mystery than anything else, and knowing the hooks just kind of waters down the “No! What?” that you might get from checking it out. Either way, I’ll give it my best but I will save the more story related side of things towards the ending paragraphs this time around, just to be safe. All said being given, this will probably appeal much more to fans of mystery than to that of horror - the amount of spook happening is actually somewhat tame compared to most anything - even something like Black Sheep (the one with the killer sheep). Still, the propensity for most of the reveals in the mystery to cause things to spiral to something totally not hinted at before also makes me believe that maybe fans of mystery won’t quite like it as much as that initial statement might imply. Let’s take it baby steps and start at its core: it’s a docu-drama type film going on an emotional journey with a family whose lost a daughter, and expect that something supernatural might be happening to them in the time after.
This might invoke some to think “oh god, found footage and supernatural, it’s like someone mixed my Blair Witch into Paranormal Activity.” Thank heavens that isn’t really the case, although it might have resulted in more scenes being stand out if it was. See, it’s very much akin to an actual documentary - more so than I thought, otherwise I’d have shelved this for personal viewing. Documentaries are fun to talk about, but review far less thanks to the general lack of things beyond the topic presented to really touch upon. Here, we have the talking head segments - or “interviews” if you will - as well as splicing in found footage elements in the ways of old recordings, horrendous phone recordings that don’t even try to survive being up-quality to a higher definition, and the occasional audio chunk here and there. Different parts tie in to different elements of the movie, but the biggest thing to know before hand is that it is very much a documentary style movie before anything else. If you are turned off by that, this won’t change it - but if you can stomach it the movie isn’t terrible.
The found footage segments, although quality is a bit of a gutterball, are at least not nausea-inducing like the last found footage flick I really remember watching. Part of the quality degradation could be the DVD copy getting viewed on a 2K monitor ( I cut back from the 4k projector after realizing this one was a DVD, because quite honestly it just doesn’t do the movie any favors at that point), but more than that I believe it’s done to emulate the old tech devices recording it. Largely, it works relatively well without being too obnoxious until the phone-recording segment comes up, at which point get ready for a garbled mess anytime someone is moving - thankfully not a long running segment. There is a nice element to them as well where they will show the image or footage, and not necessarily call attention to the point they want you to notice until after a moment, allowing you to see if you can catch anything before pointing out what they wanted you to see, similar to the red circles in the crap-your-pants version of Where’s Waldo with haunted forests and crazy monsters you can find about the internet. The better, more appreciated layer to this is when they effectively use this tactic to draw your attention away from something else you may or may not have noticed so the movie can call it up later. By far the best part of the mystery element in the movie.
The actors do a good enough job here. While it’s hard to say any given individual nails it out of the park in a manner that should net them some awards, they do a pretty competent job regardless and it’s all rather fitting of a documentary style situation. There are a few moments where an expression or something comes off as a bit counter-emotional grounds of the scene, but it also brings to mind a line delivered in which “people cope in different ways.” All I’m saying is that if someone is smiling and it seems a little awkward they would smile in that scene, perhaps it’s reasonable that it’s what they were told to do as an actor, and not just a lack of skill causing them to default to “smile and deliver and bam!” The main cast are the two parents and their son, with the lost daughter being the main focus. Their interactions are pretty decent, but this being a documentary you don’t really get the same impact you might be able to if it was a more cinematic fueled endeavor. A bit of the “being told” as opposed to “seeing is believing” I suppose. The supporting cast also does a well enough job, with the psychic probably being the most believable and perhaps the most standout as an actor. The lost daughter doesn’t get much to do in lines of conversations and the likes, what with being the lost one, but the archival footage does help give her a few moments to flex a chop and show a concerned face rather than just being always happy go lucky.
Audio is done well, but those who aren’t great with accents of any sort might want to turn on their subtitles to deal with the Australian accent. It’s not super heavy or thick or pronounced, but it is there enough to entertain or perhaps hinder. A few slang terms will slip in, but it’s not enough to wreck the understanding of what’s being said. If music exists in here, I really don’t recall it at all - so it probably did not much better than just blend the background with some emotions if it chimed in at all. The balance on everything is good, and the few moments of “music” I can remember are actually less music and more mood tones, like the low thrum of unease or a anticipatory sound coming from the direction something spooky is about to enter the screen from.
All the spooky is, as mentioned long before, quite tame. When I say “enter the screen”, I mean it walks from right to left and not in the foreground. There is very much nothing in here I’d even really call a jump scare - the closest thing is well on the screen for some time before it even jumps, and you spend the time waiting for it anyways. The effects department didn’t have much to do here beyond perhaps apply filters to all the old footage segments, although there is a decent amount of work put into the lost daughters corpse in the beginning to make it seem water-logged butnot so grotesque that you’d even really think the movie should have an R rating in the first place. Maybe the single blurry, not great focus sex scene with hardly any discernible nudity is more to blame - I don’t know. The story pacing is decent, but without getting into spoiler grounds I really can’t go much into things like twists or hard pointers.
In the end, the movie isn’t really all that I expected. If you go in expecting more of a documentary that was “based on a true story” you will probably enjoy it more than if you go in expecting a horror film. It’s not bad, but at times the mystery elements can feel a bit like Shyamalan got together with the speaker voice from Dude, Wheres My Car? and they just couldn’t stop. Actors do a fine job, what limited effects are in there are decent for the most part - overall, it’s perhaps nothing that blows the mind or scares your pants, but it’s not a terrible use of time either. Perhaps one of the finer points is that it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and it does at least give you plenty of nice pictures and videos to look at to get that analytical and thought-provoking side of your mind going, as though you were to watch one of those ghost hunting shows in an unrelated, less scientific movie form.