Last year I talked at great, great lengths about my all-time favorite horror film; Psycho. This year here on The Robot’s Pajamas, I’m going to talk about a very, very different horror film; the 2008 Australian film called Lake Mungo.
The film centers a small family that, sadly, loses their daughter after she drowned. The story follows the father, mother and brother as they each attempt to deal with their grief but, along the way, the family starts to suspect that the ghost of their deceased loved one may be visiting the home. Video, photographs and stories of seeing her in the house begin to be shared by the family so they quickly enlist the help of a psychic and begin to investigate their daughter’s past. The family shockingly learns that the hauntings aren’t all they seem and that something horrific happened to the daughter before her death.
Lake Mungo is, essentially, a “found footage” feature that is presented in a documentary style. To be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of “found footage” films. While I admit that they have a wealth of potential at their disposal, American produced ones have always felt lazy to me. The best ones I’ve ever watched have always been crafted overseas and Lake Mungo is definitely one of them. The fact it is presented in a documentary style format (I hesitate to call it “mockumentary” because of the tone of the film) and the fact that the acting feels so ridiculously authentic it creates a film that feels almost way too real. It really creates an illusion that you are watching something that really happened.
Traditional horror film fans might not enjoy Lake Mungo because, at its core, the film is more about a character study of a family in grieving and dealing with loss than it is with scaring the bejesus out of you. Don’t get me wrong, I still found this film incredibly terrifying but the scares in this film aren’t jumps scares but something more psychological. There are sequences where the “documentary” shows photographic and video evidence for the haunting and it would cause a chill to run from the bottom of my spine up to the back of my neck. This film is more about frightening you in a way that isn’t immediate but playing on the deep-seeded fears we all have; fears like losing a love one, what lives beyond our mortal life and death itself.
To even call this film a slow-burn horror film doesn’t describe it because it is truly that unique. The film isn’t building to some insanity like other slow-moving horror films do but, rather, this film is about a family on a journey to figure out the last days of their daughter’s life. The mystery it serves up is addicting and the payoff is fantastic in its intrigue, ambiguity and the unsettling nature of it all but this movie isn’t going to be a film that will have you jumping every three seconds. People looking for visceral, immediate scares that involve Jason jumping out at you will be greatly disappointed because this film isn’t style without substance—this film is entirely about substance and the scares come in the details.
Lake Mungo is truly unique in a genre that tends to repeat itself. The characters are far deeper than what we’re use to here in America, the performances are subtle and feel real, the scares are simple but unnerving and the twist the film delivers is rewarding and unexpected (please make sure you watch the credits because the film turns itself on its head and will make you want to re-watch it again to see if the clues it reveals were there all along). Without a doubt, this is truly one of the most unique and one of the deepest horror films I’ve seen and it remains, to this day, one of my go-to scary movies that I recommend to people who get tired of slasher films or cookie-cutter Paranormal Activity sequels.
Rev. Ron is a frequent contributor to The Robot’s Pajamas, a dork who loves movies too much, a geek who would immediately use a TARDIS (if he had one) to travel into the future to see the newest Marvel movies, a bad actor in a drunken Shakespeare troupe and a wannbe movie critic. You can read more of his reviews (including one he did for Lake Mungo in 2012) on his blog at RevRonMovies.BlogSpot.com. And be sure to follow him on Twitter (@RevRonster).