31 Days of Hell: Lake Mungo (2008) - Reviewed

Found footage horror will likely always be on the lower end of hardcore horror filmgoer’s totem pole.  Though beginning infamously with Cannibal Holocaust it was after micro-budget fare such as The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity became commercial successes against mixed critical reception that the subgenre quickly developed into a low budget moneymaking machine with quality control often thrown out the window.  Some are strong like the Spanish freak out [*REC] while others such as Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension sadly scrape the bottom of the barrel. 

Which brings us to Lake Mungo, a faux documentary/found-footage film which may take the top spot as one of the scariest and bleakest ever made.  The one and only feature from Australian writer-director Joel Anderson, the film begins as an eerie slow burn concerning a young girl named Alice Palmer (Talia Zucker) who drowns while swimming with her family in Ararat, Australia.  Survived by her grieving parents and brother, her family at home soon begins to experience poltergeist activity and the appearance of apparitions caught on their video camera.  Further examination of the video, however, reveals a disturbing secret about their late daughter Alice with one of the spookiest scares ever put into a found footage film at the end of it.  So chilling and uncanny is this coup de grace it will likely cause you to lose sleep at night.

Partially a ghost story and deeply sad tale of a lost soul on her way towards her demise, the film is one of the rare few emotionally engaging found footage films.  Tinged with grief and sadness, as the film picks up momentum and the chess pieces slowly come into play the scares resonate more due to our own collective emotional connection to the film’s deeply troubled dead protagonist.  Amid the footage coming from a variety of sources of varying quality ala Noroi the Curse are subtle reenactments of ominous dark rainy nights near the scene of Alice Palmer’s death, including a silhouetted figure which only reveals their shadow while leaving the rest of our fears up to imagination.
The film sports very strong, realistic performances by Rosie Traynor, David Pledger and Martin Sharpe as Alice’s surviving family members whose grief onscreen comes across as authentic.  Found footage films are rarely if ever characterized by the acting abilities of the cast members which makes Lake Mungo something of a minor revelation.  You feel these characters’ pain and sense of loss and the somber mood is never shaken by the occasional but effectively punctuating scares ahead.  Compounded with a brooding and occasionally terrifying score by Dai Peterson, Lake Mungo is a gloomy place to be whose downbeat mood only intensifies the horror elements.

Released in Australia as a minor success before being picked up by Lionsgate’s After Dark Films label a year later, Lake Mungo flew under the radar in an oversaturated marketplace flooded with many vastly inferior found footage counterparts.  A shame this one remains clandestine as it packs a brutally frightening punch that’s emotionally devastating and among the most wholly original permutations of the archetypical ghost story.  Like a nightmare you want to start screaming in but can’t, Lake Mungo is the scariest slice of brooding downbeat found footage horror you’ve never heard of!

--Andrew Kotwicki