‘Lake Mungo’ Review: She’s Gone

Posted in The Screening Room by - March 27, 2016

For my final review of Mockumentary March, I watched the 2008 horror/drama/mystery mockumentary, Lake Mungo. I’ve come to realize over the course of this month that the term “mockumentary” either encompasses a far wider range of films than I had previously thought, or that we used the wrong word to describe the movies were planned to watch this month, and Lake Mungo is further proof of that. IDMB describes the film as “A supernatural drama about grief.” That is probably the only way to describe it without providing a long winded explanation. However, because I’m writing a full-length review and not a blurb, prepare for a long-winded explanation of what is an incomprehensibly boring movie about death.

Lake Mungo shapes itself as a documentary following the Palmer family, and their attempts to cope with the drowning of their daughter Alice. Mother and father, June and Russell Palmer, try to move on with their lives and continue to care for their son Matthew. Russell sinks himself into his work, June frets about her failure to fully connect with her daughter during life, and Matthew begins to focus on learning about photography. However, when pictures start to crop up with the shadowy figure of Alice in the background, June worries that her daughter might be alive. The family has their daughter’s body exhumed and tested to ensure that it is a DNA match, which results in a positive match.

They bury her again and try to find a reason for the strange noises in their house and the photographic and video evidence of her presence. June consults a psychic, who bonds with the family. Eventually, Matthew admits to doctoring the photos to convince his father to submit to June’s desire to test the body, thinking it would give his mother closure. After he admits that he’s been fabricating evidence of a ghost, Alice’s figure continues to show up on camera, along with footage of the Palmer’s neighbor sneaking around in Alice’s room.

From here the plot gets even more twisted, with the ghost being a real ghost now, with the family finding video evidence of Alice sleeping with their adult neighbor and his wife, with the family discovering that their daughter had gone to the psychic, and he had failed to inform them of that fact, and other odd, and altogether pointless, bits of information. Eventually, however, it all leads to a clue about Alice’s week long class trip to the camp called Lake Mungo. The family relates that Alice had told them she’d had a good time at camp, but had lost two pieces of jewelry and her new cell phone.

Cell phone footage from the phones of other girls at the camp showed Alice off by herself burying something, so the Palmers take a trip to Mungo themselves. They find the burial spot, dig a hole, and discover a bag with the missing items in it. They watch the footage on the cell phone and see a figure approach Alice, who is filming with the phone. The figure gets closer and suddenly comes into focus as Alice herself after her body is pulled out of the lake that she had died in. Still living Alice freaks out and buries her things before going home, where she drowns in a lake a short while later.

That’s it. There’s a ghost, then there’s not, then there is but it’s from the future, and it’s an omen to the person who’s ghost it is, and also there’s a psychic that keeps asking people to imagine walking into their house. All of this acting as the framework within which a family comes to terms with their grief and loss.

There’s nothing particularly bad about Lake Mungo, except perhaps the audio design, which pairs poorly leveled dialogue with the high pitched whine of cicadas chirping. What’s most unfortunate about it though is that it never really commits to anything, dealing with ghosts, familial grief, secrets, and psychics, but never making any real statement, which begs the question of why it was made, and thus why people should watch it. It’s stylistic choices cause the viewer feel as though they should prepare for the inevitable jump scare, but the most central focus on the grief of the family means that said jump scare never happens, and it never tips all the way into horror. There’s also nothing that stands out as particularly excellent about the film. The acting is acceptable, the shot composition is the fairly standard Ghost Hunter style, and the content is nothing spectacular, and this distinct lack of real quality makes the downside even more noticeable.

All in all, there’s no real reason to watch Lake Mungo. If the viewer wants to look at a found footage horror movie, then check out Grave Encounters. If you want a drama about a family dealing with grief, then watch something else. I’m sure there are other options, but grief dramas aren’t my bag.

Final Say: Skip It

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Born in Arizona, he currently resides in Denton, Texas. When he isn't watching movies he's playing board games and drinking whatever he can get his hands on. John watches Djimon Honsou movies because he likes Spawn, which had Michael Jai White.
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