Lake Mungo (2008)

Hey. It’s me. Can we talk? I need to explain something.

Here’s the thing: there is a fine but important difference between the found footage craze that is destroying our civilization and the humble mockumentary popularized by stuff like This Is Spinal Tap. In both formats the characters can and do interact with the camera and its operator. But if you go found footage, the rules (which only I know about and enforce) require at least a bare bones explanation as to how said footage survived whatever insane shit went down at the climax of the movie. If everyone, including the cameraman, gets eaten by a monster while being sucked out of an airlock into a supernova, it seems unlikely the camera made it out intact. (It is true that some movies like Paranormal Activity 3 offer no explanation as to how the subject recordings became public, yet they are not only tolerated, they are lauded by otherwise respectable critics. People who don’t question these things are why daddy drinks.)

Mockumentaries, on the other hand, need no explanation. The footage we’re watching became public because the hardworking (fictional) documentary crew finished principal photography on their movie, edited it and released it. Both styles create a double layer of fiction, but the mockumentary feels more sincere because it doesn’t require the audience to imagine some retrieval mechanism to justify how all this shit made it to the screen when it started out as tapes in a box at the bottom of a demonically possessed closet.

Why are you all so sad? It’s not like somebody…oh.

Lake Mungo is an example of a mockumentary, and a fine one at that. As I think about it though, mockumentary isn’t a fair description. Lake Mungo isn’t mocking anything. It’s not a parody or a spoof in any way. A new word is needed to represent the fictionalized documentary. Maybe call it a work of doction, or a fictumentary. Or a doctionalumentary. That’s catchy.

The story: First Australian movie of the year, huzzah! Australia exports some great naturalistic thrillers and Lake Mungo is no exception. It’s a doctionalumentary that follows a pair of grieving parents whose teenage daughter, Alice, disappeared during a family camping trip, the presumption being that she drowned while swimming. (Yes, yes. Maybe the dingo ate your baby. Very clever.) The whole sordid story is presented through a series of interviews with the girl’s family, police investigators and other witnesses to the strange events leading up to and following the incident.

Authorities have yet to recover any trace of the missing girl. Because they’re using a pool skimmer.

Biggest letdown: I love when I get to say it’s hard to find a significant letdown. On the whole this movie is so tastefully done there’s very little that sticks out as substandard. Maybe there are hints of rehearsed responses from some of the actors, especially the father of the dead girl, whose frequent downward glances feel very much like an actor buying time to remember a line. But instances like that are the exception, not the rule. Generally the improvised interview dialogue flows very naturally. Oh, here’s something: the events in the movie are supposed to have taken place in 2006, yet every time we see a recording or even news footage from that year, it looks like VHS tape from 1982. Seems like overselling to me. Unless maybe the digital revolution hit Oz a little late? Like sometime between 2006 and 2008?

Line…?

Why you should watch: Issues of videotape quality notwithstanding, I really liked this movie. It’s smart and straightforward with very little forced sensationalism. The documentary angle removes the immediacy of the action, but it’s interesting that this never adversely affects the potency of the sporadic scares. Ironically (for me at least), those scares happen while we’re watching old recordings from cell phones and camcorders. Yes friends, though the clips are short and relatively few, the documentary interviews and location shots that fill the vast majority of the movie are really nothing more than an elaborate framing device. Lake Mungo is a hybrid of found footage and fictionalized documentary. A foundoctionalumentary. I need a nap.

What tape is that? You better not have taped over Diff’rent Strokes.

Memorable Moment: There are enough right angle turns that I don’t mind giving away one of the earlier tricks. Most of the recordings we see appear benign on first viewing. But for some, a zoomed-in view and a well placed highlight oval reveal what is unmistakably a stationary figure with long, dark hair standing off to the side, completely unseen by the people in the room. Maybe I’m just a sucker for ghost stories but – even after I was looking for it – there was one moment like that involving a séance that really gave me the chills.

Choice quote: “I feel like something bad is gonna happen to me. I feel like something bad has happened. It hasn’t reached me yet, but it’s on its way.”

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3 Responses to “Lake Mungo (2008)”

  1. […] 31 Flavors of Terror A terrifying movie terror-thon of terror « Lake Mungo (2008) […]

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