Review: Lake Mungo

DVD review (region 1 & 2)
Directed by Joel Anderson
Starring Talia Zucker, Rosie Traynor, David Pledger, Martin Sharpe
Release date: Out now (region 1); 25 July 2011 (region 2)

Sixteen-year-old Alice Palmer tragically drowns while swimming in a reservoir. Months later, the family home appears to be haunted by Alice’s spirit…

A quick glance at the promo materials for this faux-documentary about an Australian haunting suggests we’re in for yet another twist on the The Blair Witch Project. Yet while Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s shocker undoubtedly holds some influence over the ghostly going-ons here, the films Lake Mungo most recalls are Peter Weir’s sublime Picnic at Hanging Rock and, perhaps more surprisingly, Andrew Jarecki’s masterful documentary Capturing the Friedmans.

Like the latter real-life tale, Joel Anderson documents an apparently straightforward story, only to gradually reveal disturbing new layers. For beneath the illusion of suburban normality there exists secrets, lies and terrible ambiguity…

Anderson tells his incredible small town story through a succession of talking heads, home video footage and photographs. Convincing performances and skilful editing ensure that this feels like a genuine documentary: if you caught it on TV late at night, you’d probably be suckered in.

As horror movies go, this is pretty low-key stuff (not that you’d know it from the misleading region 1 cover), with quiet scares coming from such simple tricks as a zoom into a photo or a character uncomfortably relating something they saw. But it’s also an innovative and refreshingly unpredictable approach to genre filmmaking, and fans of Paranormal Activity or the TV show Most Haunted should find much to enjoy here. Matt McAllister

Unsettling and inventive Aussie horror.


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