I’ve discussed some of the issues that I have with the overwhelming majority of found footage horror films before. They tend to have glaring logical and common sense flaws. They are typically edited into a clear narrative (by whom? the cops?). They often have sound effects and a soundtrack/score (FOUND footage?) And so on. There are some very effective found footage horror films. (Rec, The Blair Witch Project, August Underground, sections of the V/H/S films, etc.) None of them suffers from any of those problems. The device has been clumsily adopted so often that it has become a bit of a punchline among horror fans. Or worse, a reason to dismiss a film out-of-hand. I confess, that is exactly why I slept on Lake Mungo (released as part of the After Dark Films lineup) for so long. I’d heard that it is found footage and put it in the “I’ll get around to it eventually” pile of films to see. (that’s a metaphorical pile) Well, I finally watched it and I was wrong to put it off and I was wrong about it being found footage. (well, it is largely found footage but not all found footage. it’s presented as a… you know what? just read on)
The Palmers lost their daughter, Alice, when she drown during a family outing to the local dam. (i guess that’s where they swim in Australia) That’s a supreme tragedy for any family. But it seems Alice wasn’t ready to die. The creepy feelings and strange noises in her room seem to indicate that she’s haunting her house. And she keeps showing up in photos and videos. When the local radio psychic comes to conduct a seance, it seems to be a failure. Until they review the video of the night and Alice is seen in the background. What happens from there is a serious labyrinth (metaphorical) of surprise revelations, new evidence, and chilling clues as to what’s really going on.
Lake Mungo is presented in the television documentary format that should be very familiar to anyone who isn’t a troglodyte. Key players are interviewed, speaking to someone just off camera. Photos are Ken Burns effected. Low-res videos shot on a phone or a camcorder are cut in under interview or expositional dialogue. It’s all very well done and convincing. If you were to stumble upon this film, you might be fooled “War of the Worlds” style. (i know that’s mostly pop culture legend, but it gets the point across) And it’s creepy as hell. (think: that episode of “Unsolved Mysteries” that inspired the first Jeepers Creepers) Even if you’re soulless and aren’t fazed by the grainy images of long-dead Alice in the backgrounds of photos and videos, that is just one piece of the puzzle. The non-supernatural darkness found just below the surface of this suburban life is deep. And it’s ugly. I can only assume that the Palmers were so-named because this theme is the backbone of “Twin Peaks”. (if you don’t see the connection there, do yourself a favor and rectify that immediately) This film succeeds on many levels. As a supernatural thriller, as a tragic family drama, as a mystery, and as a sordid suspense story. It’s very impressive. And the found footage follows the logic of its own conceit. A rare blessing for found footage films.
The Final Cut: Lake Mungo is a clever faux documentary that can’t be pigeonholed into any one horror sub-genre. It twists and turns and surprises while maintaining a sense of dread and fear as it winds it way toward its shocking conclusion.