REVIEW: Halloween Horror Recommendations: ‘Lake Mungo’

The Australian faux documentary finds the eeriness in grief

Graphic+made+in+Canva+by+Rahul+Lal.

Rahul Lal

Graphic made in Canva by Rahul Lal.

Bradley Hinkson

With Halloween quickly approaching, why not spend that time recommending some horror films to get everyone in the mood for the spooky season?

Have you ever seen a photo of a supposed ghost and wanted to know the story behind it? “Lake Mungo” tells that story and it might be more emotionally draining than you would expect.

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Alice Palmer, played by Talia Zucker, is found dead at Lake Mungo in Ararat, Australia. The news comes as a major shock to her family as they find some way to cope with this tragic news. Her brother Mathew, played by Martin Sharpe, decides to film and take pictures around the house after they start experiencing weird paranormal activities. He captures what could be the ghost of Alice, but is there more going on to what we’re being told?

Right off the bat, “Lake Mungo” pulls no punches in creating a sense of dread with its somber score and plot that has no intention of being hopeful for the characters or audience. We’re thrust right into the lives of the Palmers and an uneasy tone is set. Thanks largely in part to it’s faux documentary style, the film feels genuine which makes it eerie and uncomfortable to watch. It’s like watching a real family deal with this tragedy. Imagine “Dear Zachary,” but much more cold and dreary. 

Once Mathew sets up the cameras, the film becomes unsettling. The videos and photos of the supposed ghost of Alice are low quality, grainy and sometimes hard to make out, which emphasizes the legitimacy of a found footage film, but also the terror of a classic horror movie. 

The film came at an interesting point in the found footage craze, years after “The Blair Witch Project” perfected it, but around the same time as the kickoff to the “Paranormal Activity” franchise. This film started being shown at festivals in 2008, but saw a wider home release in 2010. While the film has started to gain more traction and discussion over time, it still hasn’t reached the heights of the previously mentioned films despite the fact that “Lake Mungo” utilizes the strong suits of both: the eeriness and dread of “The Blair Witch Project” and the creepy paranormal images of “Paranormal Activity.”

Though it’s many of the “found footage” images that will stick with the audience the most. Their low quality graininess works effectively in making them look and feel authentic. They feel like what you would see as you scroll through ghost videos on YouTube late at night. There’s one image in particular that upon first viewing sent literal chills down my body, not just for the actual image, but the implication of what was being shown. It’s like the final image of “The Blair Witch Project,” but even more unnerving. 

Though it’s not just the film’s paranormal occurrences that make it uncomfortable, it’s the way it confronts grief and closure head on.

It’s obvious the film is inspired by “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.” Both films focus on the idea of the perfect white, suburban family that is hiding a dark secret, specifically involving the daughter. It seems like no coincidence that both films focus on two different Palmer families. While “Twin Peaks” takes a more surrealist and even darker journey through those themes, “Lake Mungo” is all about the authenticity of a family dealing with grief, even if it can make for a hard viewing experience.

All the Palmers want is an answer and closure for Alice’s death. The issue is that some of them have a harder time confronting her death. Her mother won’t even see her dead body and only finds solace in talking with a psychic.

We all know that we’ll have to face the death of someone we love, but we never know when it will happen. It can hit so hard that it can leave us in such a state of grief that could send us spiraling.

We even hear Alice say she knows that something bad will happen to her. She has always known that somehow her actions, that inevitably led to her death, would come back to haunt her. Her family just wants the answers that she had before her mysterious passing. It’s tragic and haunting.

Even as the film goes on and the Palmers get more explanations for Alice’s death, leading to one of the scariest images I’ve ever seen in a film, they never truly get all of the answers, and honestly that’s okay. They only need the answers that give them the closure they’ve been desperately searching for, though there is something so scary and bittersweet about that. 

Grief is something terrifying for many people to confront because it reminds us of our own mortality and the possibility of not having closure at the end of our lives, for either ourselves or the people we love. We may never get all the answers we want, but will hopefully get the ones we need to move on. When a film confronts that grief in such a dark and cold manner with no sense of finding a “happy” way of dealing with it, it just feels sinister in some way. Horror films have always focused on the idea of grieving — and for good reason, it’s terrifying.

Though don’t let the emotional depth of the film fool you, this is still a genuinely unnerving and scary film.

“Lake Mungo” is one of a kind. It’s the kind of horror film that stays with you not just because of its haunting images, but because of the feeling of dread that never leaves the film. It’s a tough sit and I wasn’t ready to rewatch it, but it’s ultimately rewarding to view such an underseen film of the genre that should be on many people’s radar this Halloween season.