Lake Mungo (2008)my first contemporary horror film review

Lake Mungo (2008)

I would rarely write about contemporary horror/thriller films because I don’t consider myself to be adept at grasping the modern vibe as much. I am not at all familiar with the new selection of filmmakers, Indie or Hollywood. Although I am a huge fan of Guillermo del Toro’s work. He has a grasp of that vintage gothic reminiscent of Mario Bava and Henry James.

I was urged to write this review because I’m told I’m pretty savvy about films. Perhaps that’s true, who really cares? People seem to like to read film reviews by independent bloggers. And truly a few have actually entertained me more than the films we both were subjected to and hated mutually. So I am going to try my hand at talking about a film I just watched, that miraculously garnered amazing reviews by a majority of bloggers. I’m not going to say that they are seriously misguided, I will just say that it’s their personal right to experience the movie the way they did and leave it there. Now onto my very personal impression of Lake Mungo’s ( 2008) theatrical release. A supernatural horror film about grief.

The only one grieving is me, for having tried so hard to follow a Mobius strip of circumstances, plot, and character under-development.

I suppose I should at least give a little info about the actors, director, and the basic character overview.

The film is directed by Joel Anderson and released by the After Dark Film people, who will be doing a remake of The Ring.

Lake Mungo is a low-budget mockumentary-style Australian horror film. The story revolves around a grieving family trying to come to terms with the tragic drowning death of their daughter, Alice (Talia Zucker) while grappling with the unsettling suspicion that her ghost may be haunting them.

Ultimately Alice’s family discovers her phone in Lake Mungo. Upon viewing a blurry video clip from the phone, they witness a disturbing encounter: a corpse-like doppelganger of Alice, a portend of her own impending end.

Rosie Traynor and David Pledger play June and Russell Palmer, the oddly emotive parents of their tragically, mysteriously drowned daughter, Alice Palmer portrayed by actress Talia Zucker, who obviously has the potential to be quite a good actress if the script allowed her to stretch beyond being rigidly dressed up in secrets, and teenage angst splattered on her pretty face. Brother Mathew is played by actor Martin Sharpe.

The premise in a nutshell here is that we have a small regular Australian family confronted by the sudden and very ambiguous death of Alice, a sixteen-year-old girl who apparently held secrets back from the rest of the family. Strange happenings begin to take place in the house, and we are led through a very convoluted maze of local folk, and the Palmers, examining their relationships and the reasons why Alice might have died, and what might have transpired weeks before her final exit. We are also now wondering if she is in fact haunting the house.

At the opening credits, we are introduced to some iconic images taken from the late 1800s spiritualist movement. Spirit photography was very big back then. Seances, Psychomantiums, ectoplasm and Angels appearing to

two British girls were all the rage. I remember seeing these images in books and in documentaries about the paranormal. So I assumed that we were in for a contemporary examination of the same.

It was like opening up a box from Tiffany’s thinking you’re getting pearls only to find out that it was merely the container for a package of Tube Socks, a set of three.

I read in a few places that this particular film didn’t hurt your brain to figure out the twists and turns. Well, actually my brain did hurt. Physically manifested a piercing sort of din in the hollows of my ear canal, straight on through to my Medulla oblongata. Quite like motion sickness of the thought processes, but not due to quick filmic jump cuts, but rather the meandering plot twists, or lack thereof, that the film boasts of.

It was rather more like constantly being led down a shadowy alley, only to hit a brick wall to nowhere. Like a deliberate scene showing us a visit to the doctor’s office with brother Matt’s inexplicable bruises, and the questionable significance of Mother June walking into other people’s houses at night. Perhaps that was just to make the film effectively quirky. To me, it strained my head to follow along an empty path littered with several plot detours again, to nowhere. I pride myself on being able to anticipate where things will lead in films, and here in this film, we are led away constantly from the obvious. I guess this grand plot twist was that the obvious was just that, the obvious, and the twists were random personality quirks that never manifested into authentic character development or motivation, nor explanation.

Speaking of which, the mother comes away at the end saying she now knows her daughter on a deeper level when actually the events should have created more questions for her than illuminating the unspoken ones. Why someone would decide to bury a few random possessions after possibly seeing their own dead self on their cell phone, coming at them mind you like a pickled Indian spirit guide, which is supposed to be the one big creepy payoff of the film?

And this is a supposed supernatural film laced with paranormal activity that kept wanting to debunk itself until I couldn’t care less whether she was a real ghost or not. And as for the Psychic? who made all his clients do the work for him, sort of the “vicarious shaman psychic” who asked each person to elaborate on what they were seeing. Leading them to answer their own questions. Isn’t he supposed to do that? There was never an ounce of evidence or revelation to this man’s ability whatsoever. He was either a grief counselor or a sham artist who kept showing up to add another level of misdirection to the plot.

The only thing twisting during this film, was me, once they started contorting the film into some psychological high art experiment stylized by utilizing a pseudo-documentary lens. It not only started to irritate my brain but I actually got annoyed from going back and forth between nonrelevant players and one of the central figures Brother Mathew who wound up faking the photographic images altogether. And the “why” is as murky as the faked footage. This family was as weird as the idea that Alice’s ghost might or might not be trying to tell them something. What that was, was never realized cinematically. The one true thing I knew was that Alice died. I could have read an obituary.

I think Director Joel Anderson assumes that the question is answered, but it was not. And if It’s my job to imbue the film with my own concept of what transpired, I wasn’t given any coherent imagery or context to inspire a thought let alone motivation or conclusion. We kept getting led away from the obvious until the very end, which I suppose was that Alice WAS haunting the house, because, during the credits, you see her image in the house window, behind the three remaining family members in a snapshot. If you were holding it in while watching this film and had to pee or weren’t the kind of film watcher who sits for the entire credits, you might have missed that great plot twist. In the end, we are left playing the “Find Waldo” version of spirit photography. Or like one of those Ranger Rick magazines where you have to locate hidden items in a large oak tree and then circle them.

I didn’t like straining my eyes that hard, especially if it was just another neighbor crouching behind the chest of drawers. Did Alice keep popping up or was it more hocus pocus-itus? The film suffered from this throughout.

So was it obvious that she was a ghost? That she knew she’d be dead and then remain a ghost who was constantly being debunked by the actors and director Anderson? And was she depressed because her mother and she were not close? because she was having an affair with the neighbors whom she babysat for? Did she commit suicide because a bloated creepy version of herself came hurling itself at her via cell phone image?

Incidentally as creepy as the image was, it could have easily been the likeness of that Face on Mars or The Virgin Mary indelibly and inextricably burned into a piece of  French Toast as it was Alice’s image.

Alice’s cell phone footage, the doppelganger is revealed in an eerie fuzzy close-up.

Not enough to make her want to bury a few doodads in the ground, which miraculously, the family managed to find amidst a huge expanse of landscape. What superb tracking skills.

And again, that friendly “psychic” character, that was more guided meditation guru than psychic, who kept popping up with secrets of his own. Oh yes, there’s a memorable line in the film, well not for me, but it’s used on the IMDb website as the best line in the film, “she had secrets about having secrets” clever, sure. Was it her secret that she was dying to get away from this awful family dynamic? A father who is too eerily calm all the time? That was more creepy to me than anything. Random neighbors shot footage in the park where Alice died, capturing the image of brother Matt instead, like it was a big foot sighting.

Oh, is that a ghost in the bedroom,? No! it’s the neighbor crouching down in a crawl space behind the fireplace. Why, well you tell me? To get the video back? Why did Alice have this video in the first place? Perhaps the sex tape was faked as well? Perhaps we all dreamed of this movie collectively. Like a nightmare with great landscape photography. Perhaps Alice should have buried the script with her possessions.

Alice’s boyfriend who would meander in and out, say a few words about his dead girlfriend, none of which shed any light on anything. And then there were the constant, still photography shots, of the night sky, of the backyard, which is always an eerie place right? This wasn’t supposed to be a documentary about photography nor a travel logue about Australian Summer skies. So after the 2nd or 3rd pretty image of a night sky, I started to get irritated again.

I read somewhere that Director Anderson laid everything out so nicely for us. Well, he might as well have ripped up an entire Anthropology catalog using random people, and unconnected images and thrown them up in the air, then film the images as stills, from what settled on the ground and call it a movie. Because nothing connected us to anything, and even if it did, who the hell would care? I didn’t.

The only real tragic thing was that Alice had to be part of this bunch for 16 years of her life. And where was this dog in the film? Maybe he’s a ghost too.

Did she drown by accident? Did that scary bloated image jump out at her via reflection in the water? Some bloggers theorized that the neighbors killed her so as to avoid being caught for statutory rape. I’d like to know how they could have done that, while the brother was getting out of the water because he was cold. Perhaps the water made his bruises bluer. Perhaps the neighbors hid behind a magic-faked rock in the Dam and beat her so badly that she fell below the surface, but the father and brother couldn’t hear her screams because they had faked their own presence at the Dam altogether. I guess Mom was busy sneaking into someone else’s house, trying someone else’s coffee for a change. Speaking of faking things, they might have tried calling this film Fake Mungo.

Maybe they should have held the séance in the dark as other spiritualists do. Instead of looking like they were sitting around paying the bills at the table.

Again, I’d like to know what kind of psychic this was. Or perhaps he killed Alice~

Maybe the time she had the counseling session with him, he drowned her in the bathtub, moved her body to the Dam, and then had the brother pretend to be Alice. Maybe she was never there until the 25th when they found her. Or was it the 27th? Geez that seemed to matter somehow as part of the documentary feel. To account for dates and times, and opinions of the local town folk who knew and loved Alice but didn’t know that she had a secret side to her. That she was one of the very few people who ever encounter their bloated ghostly self-assaulting them through their cell phone service.

This is where it hurt me! At the brain stem.

So I hear they are remaking this unique masterpiece here in the States which only means one thing. There will certainly be more nudity, quick jump cuts of the irritating nature, where you don’t quite know what you’re looking at, but you know it’s malevolent and harmful. Using black blood instead of the good old red kind they used to use in the good old days. The first time I saw the black blood I admit I found it an interesting effect that caused my skin to crawl in a good way, but unlike the great potato chip theory, I can only taste this once. After having seen it in The Grudge or The Ring, I’ve lost my interest completely and it has become artifice and unoriginal.  The remake of Lake Mungo, due out in 2011 will probably use the same drastic black hazy bloody images that screech in and out so abruptly to replace any substantive content. So, I guess by now, those of you who loved this film hate my guts and think I’m crazy and naïve. That’s alright. At least I didn’t fake this review. Tomorrow I review a far more interesting film, executed masterfully and in great contrast to this nasty little post. The House Of The Devil (2009)