Death is a sure shot sniper, ending people with extreme prejudice since the beginning of time. It doesn’t care what color you are or which god you worship, when Death has you in its crosshairs you better hire someone to carve out your epitaph. Perhaps death is easiest on the dead. It leaves the grieving living feeling as cold as a corpse’s cunt. Death lets secrets escape like those ghosts from the Ark of the Covenant, beautiful at first then turning monstrous and destructive.
Can we ever really know somebody, even those “closest” to us? Does sharing a living space mean we share everything else, what is in our hearts and minds? What private ghosts share the bed of the person in the room down the hall? You can borrow their coat, but don’t look too deep into that dark closet.
Joel Anderson’s Lake Mungo is an effectively creepy little horror movie. It is also a good examination on the archaeology of guilt and loss. It is a faux documentary chronicling the ordeal of the Palmer family. They live in the town of Ararat in rural Australia. On a day trip swimming in a local lake, they lose track of sixteen year old Alice(Talia Zucker), who they last saw in the water. The authorities are called and the search is on.
Alice’s body is missing for days, somewhere in the murky waters.
We see clips from local news, showing police divers with high tech equipment and powerful search lights dredging the lake for Alice’s body. Interviews with terminally impassive police officers and the wounded Palmer family tell us that they know Alice is dead and that the recovery of the body will just be for closure. These scenes are well done and the actors help set us up for the dark journey the Palmer’s are about to embark on.
The photos of Alice’s waterlogged body, bleached white, deformed and stained with black ooze are disturbing. Her father Russell(David Pledger) is summoned to identify the body. Hoping for closure, the last view he sees of his daughter’s earthly body shows her distorted face seemingly frozen with fear. He tells us how the car would only drive in reverse on the way home.
We learn that soon after Alice’s burial, the strange occurrences begin.
Footsteps are heard on the Palmer’s roof, there is something wrong with the door in Alice’s empty room. Beaten up by guilt like a mugging victim in a dark alley, mother June(Rosie Traynor) goes for long walks at night and enters other people’s houses. Brother Mathew’s(Martin Sharpe) photography hobby starts to show eerie things. Russell recounts an unsettling story that leaves him sobbing like a scared child on his dead daughter’s bed.
The small town starts to regard the Palmer’s differently. People look at them longer than normal in restaurants. The local church wants to comfort them even though the Palmer’s did not attend. Well meaning friends offer advice that can be as damaging as apparitions roaming the rooms of a home that is now forever missing one family member.
The story unfolds like one of those shows on a cable station that specialize in examining the type of murky mysteries that soil the clothes on laundry lines in small towns. Things go down and the neighborhood starts to become critical of the Palmers. This is especially apparent when the Palmers contact radio talk show host and psychic Ray Kemeny(Steve Jodrell). Many view him as a charlatan–a scheming rainmaker offering cardboard comfort to grieving families holding onto that last strand of hope. Many people need to know their loved ones are happy, even in death.
After a particularly harrowing discovery, June rummages through Alice’s closet and excavates her safe. In it, the Palmer family uncovers the keys to Alice’s hidden pain. It is here that they focus on Alice’s class trip the previous year to Lake Mungo, a dry lake and tourist destination in Australia. The family takes a trip there to retrace Alice’s steps in a attempt to unearth what she was confronted with on a dark and windy night. Digging for destiny can be sometimes problematic.
Luke Skywalker found this out the hard way.
The film is technically very well made on what was probably a small budget. There is very little in the way of expensive looking special effects. However, Lake Mungo gets more across with using still photographs and the voiceover narration from characters–even Alice–than many movies do with millions of dollars worth of slick and soulless CGI. As the camera slowly zooms in on Alice’s face doing fun and mundane things, there is always something in her eyes and mouth that suggest she is uneasy with the world around her.
Unlike many horror films, the wounds in this film do not bleed. The damage here is a dark shadow cast over the Palmers, weighing them down like wet cement as they try to go about their lives and regain some of what they have lost.
This is a good film. Not a bad way to spend 87 minutes if you find yourself stuck on the tarmac.