Lake Mungo is a 2008 Australian horror film that I have seen make an appearance on many “best foreign” and “best lesser-known” horror movie lists. It has been on my to-watch list for some time, and I am so happy I finally got a chance to give it a go.
It is hard to describe exactly what subgenre this movie falls into. It is done like a mockumentary, so a lot of people will jump to “found-footage,” but it’s not exactly that. There is some found footage used, yes. However, the vast majority of the movie is done like a documentary, whereas most found-footage horror movies set up the idea of a documentary then kind of go off the rails. Watching this movie, other than a few moments, you could even be tricked into believing it is a True Crime documentary. It is also kind of supernatural horror, kind of psychological, but also something on its own. It makes it rather hard to define when recommending it to people but makes for a compelling experience when watching.
So Lake Mungo follows a family in the aftermath of Alice, the 16-year-old daughter of the Palmer family, having drowned. The family is not coping well at all. Matthew, Alice’s brother, has become shut-in. Alice’s father has gone into denial mode, throwing himself completely into work. And Alice’s mother has begun walking around the neighborhood at night and sneaking into homes. Both Alice’s mother and Matthew claim there is something wrong with their home now. Their suspicions go deeper when Matthew, having set up cameras around the house, gets shots of what looks like Alice.
As the family digs into what they perceive to be a haunting, they also get a deeper look at Alice and realize they never really knew her at all. There are many startling revelations, some of them creepy and lending to the horror aspects, others troubling and showing Alice as a victim.
There is a lot that happens in Lake Mungo, and honestly, the less you know going in, the better. Even the details I have given, I worry if they are too much. Alice and the Palmer’s life is a complicated one, and watching it unfold will send most viewers through a range of emotions. I was angry, sad, understanding, and shocked at various times throughout the movie.
But I was never really scared. I don’t mean this as a knock on the movie; I don’t believe it is meant to scare you like other movies. I think the filmmakers set out to make something unique and succeeded. Again, Lake Mungo plays out like a regular documentary, and while there are unsettling moments, it is not trying to make you jump or scream.
Instead, you are sitting down and watching a journey of a family in mourning, that could very easily be something real. There are supernatural elements that follow throughout the whole thing, and some extremely effective creepy and “whoa” moments. More than that though, Lake Mungo seems to be a reflective piece that is horror, but not like most horror experiences.
In all honesty, I would highly recommend this movie. It is well made, had a fantastic story, and really made an impact on me. Beyond that, it also shows how broad the genre of horror truly is and how much you can do with it. Lake Mungo managed to creep me out and stick with me the way that horror movies do, but without much in the way of jump scares or traditional horror elements. It set out to tell a story and wove different unsettling and creepy things into the narrative but trusted that less is more, and it works well.
Lake Mungo is an emotional ride that I am sure some will find too slow and without enough punch. But for me, it was a great experience and something different than you normally get. I am so glad I gave it a shot and hope more people will as well. I also hope it might inspire other filmmakers to really test the limits of the horror genre in new and interesting ways. Yes, it is older now so it is strange to say that, but I think it can still have a positive impact on the genre overall even 10+ years later.