Lake Mungo: A 21st Century Horror Landmark Simon Fitzjohn June 10, 2020 Editor's Choice, Features, Why I Love 1896 I don’t know about you, but one of the things that frustrates, nay upsets me the most about being a long-term, somewhat hardcore horror fan is that, over the years, you lose that ability to be scared. You know what I mean – there are only so many monsters, slashers, ghosts and other creepy goings-on that you can sit through before you eventually begin to adopt a weary, seen-it-all-before attitude. Don’t get me wrong, I can still get a kick out of a good horror and definitely enjoy them – it’s what keeps sending me back to the genre after all. But scared? Hairs on the back of your neck to attention and goose pimples aplenty? Forget it. Which is why Lake Mungo, in my book, is a film to be truly treasured and one I will shout from the rooftops to anyone who cares to listen. I’d still need a bit of arm-twisting to admit I was ‘scared’ by it, but chilled – hell yes. Released with little to no fanfare back in 2008 (although taking years later to surface on DVD), Lake Mungo is one of those ‘faux documentary’ films that succeeds thanks to playing things brutally straight – think The Last Exorcism before it lost its nerve and went all shitty at the climax. A low-budget Australian offering, this effort from writer/director Joel Anderson shunts us into ghost territory, focusing on the Palmer family, struggling to come to terms with the death (via drowning) of daughter Alice (Talia Zucker). Told via interviews with father Russell (David Pledger), mother Rosie (June Traynor) and son Mathew (Martin Sharpe), the film is a blow-by-blow account of Alice’s disappearance, untimely death and possible ‘return’, with the on-camera interviews interspersed with still photographs, home camera footage and news reports. We also, as the story unravels, find out that there may have been a whole lot more going on in Alice’s life than the family realised, secrets that were very much best left unknown… Lake Mungo is one of those films that people like to dub ‘slow burners’, which very often can be cinematic shorthand for ‘boring’. But nothing could be further from the truth here and – I have to admit – I was pretty much reeled in from the first five minutes. The acting is incredibly effective and comes across as all-too-real, no doubt helped by the fact that Anderson did not provide his cast with a script as such, instead giving scene outlines and encouraging them to improvise. The chills are layered on slowly and carefully, with a sense of dread dripping from every frame as the film builds to a spooky crescendo. There are a couple of on-camera scares – one jump scare is so deftly handled you can see it coming (literally) but still don’t quite know what to expect – but this is a very ‘adult’ ghost story, rather than any sort of effects extravaganza. It is quite simply a staggering achievement – a flick that literally had me holding my breath at times and one that gives me the creeps just thinking about it (don’t forget to sit through the end credits for one final jolt by the way). Lake Mungo is a film that is rarely talked about – and will certainly not suit all tastes – but for me it is as good a slice of 21st century horror as you could ask for. Truly haunting.