It’s an Australian movie today! Yay for the Aussies!

Lake Mungo – Australia, 2008. Dir. & Screenplay Joel Anderson. Starring Rosie Traynor, David Pledger, Martin Sharpe.

I feel like the problem with Lake Mungo is one of expectations. If you watch the trailer, your expectations are set for a ghost movie about a young girl who believes she’s going to die. There’s action, tension, a set up for haunting activity.

It looks cool.

And then you watch the movie. What you get is sort of what you expect but not really. Then, once you realize you’re watching a different movie than you thought you were going to be, the disappointment sets in.

This is why I hate movie trailers sometimes. I mean, I love them but I hate them. Because they raise false expectations or give away something important about the plot. Sometimes they give away the entire movie. It’s really annoying.

Watching Lake Mungo, I actually enjoyed it once I realized it wasn’t the movie I thought it was. What it’s not: another found footage movie like Paranormal Activity.

What is it then?

It’s the story of a family struggling with their grief after 16-year-old Alice drowns in a lake while they’re out on a family picnic. The film is shot documentary style, not found footage, with the narrative being told through interviews with the people involved, fake news footage and police video, home movies, that sort of thing. What makes it different than found footage is that none of what we’re watching is supposed to be of the events as they’re occurring. It’s like the horror movie version of This Is Spinal Tap.

From Australia, Lake Mungo is a technically well done movie. I enjoyed how the filmmakers shot everything, they really take advantage of their locations and even the use of time lapse is explained in a credible way. Plus, it’s really pretty. Lake Mungo played at a couple of festivals worldwide including South by Southwest and the After Dark Horrorfest. It’s easy to see why.

While the movie isn’t particularly scary there are some unsettling moments. It is on some level a haunted house, ghost movie and there are plenty of parts working with that. Mostly though it struggles along with this family going through the incredibly painful process of coping with their daughter’s death. As they go deeper into finding out about her life, they make several discoveries that make them realize they didn’t know Alice nearly as well as they thought.

I think Lake Mungo manages to strike an emotional chord with this family. Their pain is tangible. Their actions are as confused as the individuals but in the most believable ways possible. I personally cared about what was going to happen to them, I wanted them to find out what had happened to Alice so that they could also find what they most desperately needed – closure.

However, I didn’t really care as much about Alice’s story. The movie changes course a few times, first it’s about how they’re possibly being haunted by Alice’s ghost. Then it’s about how there was so much they didn’t know and the people that were taking advantage of them. Then, finally, it’s about solving the mystery. There are some pretty big shifts that happen here with these changes in focus and it makes it hard to ever really connect with Alice’s story on any kind of emotional level.

I liked Lake Mungo mostly but I’m not going to call it my favorite. It’s a bit too slow in the pacing, moves the story focus around a little too much, and in the end doesn’t create as much of an emotional connection with the viewer as it really needed to do in order to be completely successful. It’s an interesting little film and possibly worth checking out as long as you don’t go in expecting Paranormal Activity. Let it be what it is and you might just like it.