Australia (dir. Joel Anderson)
Cast: David Pledger, Martin Sharpe, Rosie Traynor, Scott Terrill, Steve Jodrell, Talia Zucker, Tamara Donnellan
Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Alice Palmer drowns while swimming in the local dam. When her body is recovered and a verdict of accidental death returned, her grieving family buries her. The family then experiences a series of strange and inexplicable events centered around their home. Profoundly unsettled, the Palmers seek the help of psychic and parapsychologist, Ray Kemeny. Kemeny discovers that Alice led a double life. A series of clues lead the family to Lake Mungo where Alice’s secret past emerges.
Review: “Lake Mungo” is a mockumentary that relies on found footage to build a story about the ghost of a dead girl haunting her family via photographs. It is an interesting idea and it is fairly well executed as a mockumentary, but there are so many unanswered questions (even the answers to certain questions are questions themselves) that you may feel frustrated when the movie reaches its climax, and even more so when the movie is complete. “Lake Mungo” is a movie that provokes some serious thinking when it is over, and it also provokes more than a couple screams. This is a definite scream-worthy movie, one that I almost guarantee will keep you up at night.
After Alice Palmer’s mysterious drowning death on a family vacation (Palmer… very “Twin-Peaks” of them!) her ghost starts showing up in pictures and local townspeople begin seeing her around the lake where she died. The Palmer father, who identified Alice’s body after death is unsettled by the appearances because during the identification process he had doubts regarding the identity of the body. Alice’s mum, deeply disturbed by the appearances and her husband’s admission that the body in the lake barely resembled Alice, demands Alice’s body be exhumed so she can confirm she is indeed dead. Upon exhumation and DNA testing, it is confirmed to be Alice. The Palmers think that mum just needed some closure (she was never part of the identification process of Alice’s body) so they convince themselves the hauntings, appearances, or whatever they were are over with… until she starts showing up again.
Now here’s where the movie gets a little twisted, (I suggest you stop reading now if you want to watch “Lake Mungo” without it being spoiled for you) there’s a total “awwww what the FUCK!” moment about half way through where Alice’s brother confesses to faking the photographs and even staging the supposed “Alice” appearances on the lake where she drowned. Now at this point in the movie you’ll probably think to yourself, “wow, is that it?” but I assure you, there are more twists and turns on the way, increasingly more complex in nature. It turns out that despite the photographs having images of Alice superimposed on them, what appears to be Alice’s ghost actually is, unbelievably, still in the faked photographs. She is even in the video recordings that Alice’s brother staged to look like the house was haunted. You may be turned away at this point, especially when there is a revelation that in one of the staged video recordings, there appears a fake Alice ghost, a real Alice ghost, and an intruder with a link to Alice’s shady past. Wow, that’s a lot of people to catch in a single frame on a videotape! Far-fetched? Yes. Potential for an intriguing story? Absolutely.
It turns out that Alice Palmer (much like the infamous Laura Palmer of “Twin Peaks”) was leading a double life, and the mysterious intruder present in the videotape was a next door neighbor who was breaking into the Palmer house to retrieve a videotape documenting the threesome he was having with Alice and his wife (told you it got twisted!). Unfortunately, this plot thread really doesn’t amount to much, and the neighbors simply move away and disappear before they can be questioned by the Palmers or the authorities. The whole affair only suggests that Alice was a shady character who may not have been the squeaky clean girl next door her friends, family, and even her boyfriend made her out to be. She was truly two people. I like how the movie plays around with this idea of doubles (stemming from Alice’s double life). There are doubles all over the place, doubles in photographs (fake Alice and ghost Alice), double videotapes (neighbor trying to steal a videotape while being caught on videotape) and double cell phone video clips (Alice caught on cell phone video camera burying her own cell phone video camera with bizarre footage on it). The family ends up hiring a psychic who ends up having some sort of mysterious connection to Alice (more on that later) in order to help understand Alice’s past (although this doesn’t really help answer any questions, it just provides new ones) until an insanely blurry cell phone video recording is discovered that provides the Palmers with a new trail to follow.
It appears that the cell phone video, taken by a friend of Alice while on vacation with Alice and a group of girlfriends to the titular locale, captured Alice in the act of burying something. Personally, I couldn’t make out a damn thing on that video, so when it is immediately concluded to be Alice who appears to be burying something in the video, I was a bit skeptical. Well I guess since Alice was appearing everywhere, I guess the writer assumed we’d buy it. Sorry, I didn’t. It was way too grainy/blurry to see anything, never mind to positively identify someone and determine exactly what it was they were doing.
When the Palmers visit Lake Mungo to find what it was that Alice buried, they are shocked to discover that she buried the few personal treasures she owned: some jewelery and her brand new cell phone. Okay, bear with me here, on Alice’s cell phone another video is found. That cell phone video footage proves to be one of the most profoundly disturbing parts of “Lake Mungo” and I suppose the most confusing as well. Alice basically captured the image of her dead self on video at Lake Mungo a week before her death. Her connection to the psychic hired by the family to communicate with Alice is then explained when the psychic reveals audio and video recording of a session with Alice where she discusses having images of her dead self and having out of body experiences where she is haunting her own home… or something. Yes, this all sounds a bit… out there, but I assure you this is a movie experience like no other.
The best element of this film is the authentic feeling you get from the actors and actresses who are interviewed for the mockumentry. They make mistakes, trip over their words, and hey, for all I know, they probably even forgot a few lines, because the interviews look and feel as if they were a part of a real documentary. It’s a generally well made film with an authentic feel that truly makes the mockumentary element look and feel more like a real documentary. Of course, anything with haunted houses scares the shit out of me, and “Lake Mungo” is no exception. Despite the haunted house elements, there are plenty of scares to go around, and since there are no cheap jump scares like you would find in so many slashers, these are some pretty authentic scares worthy of a scream. This is a great entry into the After Dark Horrorfest, and I will go so far as to say that this is hands down my favorite entry. It’s also remarkable that this is Joel Anderson’s first feature film because it looks like it was made by someone with a lot of experience in the genre. As history has shown us, there are no good horror movies that remain untouched by remakes (and/or Michael Bay) and “Lake Mungo” is no exception as the remake is slated for release is 2011. I’d be excited to see some of the plot getting a face-lift, maybe making it less complex and with more of a firm resolution to the story. As it stands, I’m more than happy with this original, and I think you might get a scream out of it too.