When a person dies, they leave behind people whose lives will never be the same again. Death affects people in strange ways and coping with it is hard.
This is what happens to the Palmer family in Lake Mungo. When their daughter drowns, they are left not only to grieve but to literally unearth terrible secrets about her.
Alice Palmer seems like an ideal girl--smart, pretty, popular. Her death shatters her parents and brother’s life but it is when shocking secrets about her are revealed that Lake Mungo suddenly becomes a terrifying movie.
The secrets are revealed at every turn and done so cleverly. Documentary and found footage movies, usually put me to sleep but this one kept me hooked from the start. Not many movies made in this style have the caliber to pull off what Lake Mungo has accomplished. It brings in twists and turns that are harder to do in this documentary style.
There are small flaws but. The movie begins with countless interviews and we are shown people talking about Alice. But who are they and how are they related to Alice, that is hardly clarified. Except for the immediate family, the others are a tad hard to remember. The other flaw wasn’t exactly a flaw but a missed opportunity to be frightening.
Had this been told in the third person viewpoint, the scene Alice’s father describes when he sees his daughter’s ghost, would have been shocking, depending on the execution of the shot of course.
But this is shot in documentary style and maybe it was better that it was talked about rather than shown, for realistic purposes of course.
Her father is the one who does most of the talking in the interview. After his daughter disappears, he is lost and throws himself into his work. His wife has taken to entering people’s homes and pretending their lives was hers so she wouldn’t have to deal with her grief. The son does something that may not have been appropriate.
When Alice’s body is found in the lake after three days, her body is barely recognizable and it is up to the father to identify her. He confesses his wife should have been there too as it would have given her closure seeing her daughter’s corpse.
Time passes and we are shown the son has an interest in photography. He takes shots of everything around him and claims that Alice is in his photographs. The mother too, feels her daughter’s presence around her, especially at night, standing by her bed.
After they set up cameras and they capture a blurry apparition of Alice in the hallways, they request her body be exhumed and tests be conducted to confirm the girl, in fact, was Alice. When it is revealed to be her, she is buried again. It is then Matthew, the son, and brother of Alice, confesses that he falsified the photos and videos so that Alice would be exhumed and her mother could see her and get the closure that would stop her from wandering into people’s homes at night.
But this is hardly shocking compared to what comes next. As Alice’s friend proclaims, Alice had secrets about keeping secrets. True to her words, the videos had inadvertently captured an intruder into the Palmer home. It turns out to be the next door neighbor whose kids Alice had babysat for.
That is when a shocking secret about Alice is revealed. In her room, in a hiding spot, her mother finds a videotape of her daughter indulging in risque acts with the neighbor and his wife. The family is shocked and they feel that is what Alice wanted to tell them.
The psychic whom the family had called when they thought Matthew’s videos were real, also hides from them the fact that Alice had come to see him because she was having weird dreams about drowning and being unable to be seen by her mother.
Now, why had Alice gone to see a psychic? And why exactly is the movie called Lake Mungo?
Well, apparently Alice’s friend comes forward with a video of a trip to Lake Mungo. Alice had gone to camp there and a shaky footage shows the girls laughing and having fun but Alice, looking creeped out and frantically digging something under a tree.
The family takes a trip to Lake Mungo and find the tree and dig to find Alice’s phones and jewelry she claimed she had lost on her trip. The father charges the phone and finds a video of Alice taking a video in the dark and coming across a ghost who looks exactly like her, except her face is misshaped just like Alice is found by the divers.
The family is dumbfounded and we have to draw our conclusions. Alice had seen her future at Lake Mungo, had begun having nightmares about drowning and gone to a psychic for help. But she couldn’t change her future and died. Her last wish was to tell her family all her secrets.
Now that it was told, the family returns home and finds the house “lighter”. They move out and in the end credits, we see Matthew’s altered photos, except it turns out the real Alice’s ghost was showing up in them, trying to send a message to her family.
This was indeed a well-crafted movie with taut story-telling and ably executed. I’ve honestly begun to feel that the horror movies that came out ten years ago, were far superior than the current offerings. The movies nowadays rely heavily on special effects and star cast whereas a good horror movie only needs a story that is relatable to the point that the viewer feels like it could happen to them. Jump scares too, are heavily loaded in horror movies made currently.
Lake Mungo is proof that storytelling is an art and skilled execution is everything.
Scare scale: 3.5/5