Lake Mungo (2009)

Director Joel Anderson
Writers Joel Anderson
Starring Talia Zucker, Rosie Traynor, David Pledger, Martin Sharpe, Steve Jodrell
Genre Ghost Story
Tagline If you're never seen a ghost … Look Closer

Talk us through it

Sixteen year old Alice Palmer drowns while swimming at a local dam leaving her family grief stricken. Ten days after Alice's funeral strange things start happening at the family home. There are noises in the ceiling, Alice's bedroom door slams repeatedly, and family members are having trouble sleeping. Russell, Alice's dad, re-hangs her door and calls in a pest inspector, it makes no difference.

When strange images start appearing in Alice's brother Mathew's photographs and videos the Palmers call in parapsychologist Ray Kemehy. Ray conducts a séance and Mathew captures a ghostly image. With all roads pointing to Lake Mungo, the destination of Alice's final school trip, secrets will be uncovered and inexplicable events will happen.

Ready to see what might be lurking in the dark?


"I feel like something bad is going to happen to me; I feel like something bad has happened" - Alice

Writer/Director Joel Anderson turns in a deceitfully simple movie that is going to come at you from a number of angles. The movie for sure centers on the concept of grief and how different people cope with that. Alice's father Russell Palmer throws himself into work and tries to be strong for his family, Alice's ghost may have other ideas. Her mom June isn't ready to let go of her daughter, is June indirectly causing the apparitions? And Brother Mathew has his own way of expressing grief, it's just not what we would expect. If Anderson had of simply shot a movie covering a death in a Victorian family and how people cope with that then he would have made a very powerful movie in its own right. Like Neil Marshall's The Descent (2005) Anderson is dialing up strong human reaction to an extreme situation, the horror elements are icing on the cake for dark genre enthusiasts, and possibly not needed for more mainstream viewers.

It's the horror elements however that prove pivotal through the course of the first two blocks of the movie. Do you believe in ghosts? Anderson asks the question and then through a series of interviews with Alice's family and friends provides an answer we may be just harboring in the back of our minds. Anderson then explodes in an unforeseen change of direction that has you wondering if your natural skepticism wasn't right all along. It's simply so unexpected and so outstanding that you will be left to pick your bottom jaw off the ground. Can you believe anything you will see during the rest of the movie? Anderson isn't telling but piles on the evidence in an almost haphazard fashion, the truth is out there, are you Mulder or Scully?

"She kept the fact she kept secrets a secret." - Kim Whittle

Of course the final block of Lake Mungo is pretty unequivocal, ghosts do exist they do haunt us, but exactly what are they? Anderson isn't saying and it may take a few viewings to decipher something, anything, as the movie heads off the garden path and into some surreal territory. Notably Anderson takes time out of his busy schedule of twisting notions to deliver one hell of a shock scene, you may just need a change of undies after that one. After three viewings I'm still not that much closer to providing an adequate explanation of the final block of the film, each time I watch it I pick up on something else I missed previously. As stated Anderson's feature is deceitfully simple on the surface, but there's some deep dark waters happening, and the undercurrent will have you wondering if you didn't perhaps miss something.

Anderson shots his movie in a mockumentary style utilizing news reports, phone video cameras, camcorders, and a series of interview tapes. Surprisingly the debut film maker has a better handle on how to make this work, more importantly how to build an eerie atmosphere, and how to construct a movie that works better then his Hollywood counterparts can achieve. Lake Mungo works because Anderson's characters are engaging and down to earth as opposed to the whiney self centered characters The Blair Witch Project (1999) would have us believe got lost in the Maryland woods. If Anderson's characters believe in the supernatural then we pretty much have to. The Director shows a sure hand with his cast, and the result is believability.

What may detract for some viewers from Lake Mungo is that nothing is spelt out, you have to listen and watch, what was seemingly a throw away scene earlier in the movie comes home with a vengeance in later scenes. In particular you need to listen to Ray Kemehy's interviews, the inference is pretty chilling and once again not as linear as some Viewers may wish for in their movies. At its heart Lake Mungo is a mature ghost story that requires Audience participation, you get out of this movie exactly what you are prepared to put in. Don't expect sudden shocks, gore, or any of the other aspects Hollywood uses to bludgeon it's Audience into submission, Lake Mungo is very subtle with what it does well and thus becomes infinitely more rewarding as the chill runs down your spine.

Through the course of the movie Alice's secrets are uncovered and a glimpse into her world is given. Even her family are unprepared for some of the revelations, and the Audience is sure as hell totally unprepared for the twists and turns headed our way. I think one of the strengths of Lake Mungo is the small community atmosphere of the Victorian town of Ararat and the revelations about people other than Alice that emerge as the movie progresses. Alice isn't the only one with something to hide here.

In keeping with the mockumentary style of movie making going down with Lake Mungo some plot points disappear during the course of the movie, and others simply make no sense in context. What was the purpose of the scene and discussion of Mathew Palmer's bruises again? What exactly happened with the investigation into the Toohey clan? Did Ray Kemehy actually need to be included in the movie?

Anderson adds to his feeling that there is something beyond the normal going down in Ararat with some long seemingly unconnected landscape shots, both at night and during the day. The Director imbibes his movie with an other worldly feeling that adds to the Audience's unease. We are being given a glimpse of something from beyond the grave, and even though it's not overtly threatening there is still an atmosphere of unease and tension being created.

There's pretty much an unknown cast in Lake Mungo with Director Anderson extracting some seriously strong everyman performances. All the Palmers are solid in their roles and create a family dynamic that works. Talia Zucker (Alice), Rosie Traynor (June), David Pledger (Russell), and Martin Sharpe (Mathew), carry the movie as the Palmer clan and the chemistry between the family members does work. The entire supporter cast, and there's not an extensive number of them, are equally solid and believable.

Dai Paterson and Fernando Corona supplied the score and original music. It's working for Lake Mungo with the other worldly nature highlighted by some eerie chord movements. Paterson and Corona have captured Joel Anderson's atmospherics brilliantly.

Summary Execution

It's been quite some wait for Lake Mungo to arrive in any shape or form in regional Australia. Naturally we didn't get a cinema release, heaven forbid that there might be people who want to see something not from Hollywood or without Baz Luhrmann's sticky fingers on it. And the DVD retailers are not stocking the movie. Thank god for the internet and online purchasing options. For mine the movie was well worth waiting on, and it's rapidly gone into my top five local horror releases for 2009. Joel Anderson has managed to turn on something completely original and I was lapping it up.

Naturally Lake Mungo didn't take any awards this year, heaven forbid we should support our local horror industry even when they get it right in any shape or form. As opposed to the movie that did take home a swag of awards, Lake Mungo has already been optioned with undue haste by Hollywood for a 2011 remake. That's right kids Boredwood now not only believes their own Audiences are too stupid to read title cards but that they won't understand foreign accents even when speaking English. My suggestion to North American readers, boycott the remake and get your hands on the original, you know they will water it down with a single I.Q replacement plot anyway. As to the movie taking home the awards this year, well no wonder the local industry doesn't gather a huge percentage of market share.

Full recommendation on Lake Mungo, a must watch movie for anyone who loves a good ghost story. It's involving, comes at you at different angles, and doesn't lose sight of its primary goal. Take a trip to the Lake, and see what's waiting for you.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

One of the top horror releases for the year and the best ever ghost story from Down Under.