Friday, July 28, 2017

Haunted By Memories and Actual Ghosts, or Thoughts on Lake Mungo

Written and directed by Australian Joel Anderson, Lake Mungo (2008) is a pseudo-documentary; an assembly of narratives and footage is used to build a story, and a tiny supernatural element is introduced until it fills the entire film with a profound sense of dread.  Subtle, literally haunting, and very unsettling, Lake Mungo tells the story of the accidental drowning of sixteen year-old Alice, and how her friends, family, neighbors and community cope with that loss.  Of course this is a ghost story, but not the one you expect; there’s a twist, a particularly clever one, and I’m more than a little bit mad at myself for not seeing it coming.
There’s no mystery to solve in an accidental death, but we as an audience are conditioned from decades of movies and TV shows to look for one.  Lake Mungo is a collage of news footage, interviews, family photos, secret diaries and sex tapes (it’s a modern movie and a reflection of the world we live in) that paints a portrait of Alice that is all the more remarkable when you remember that it’s actually a movie.  Most of the scenes improvised, which aids in the unscripted, found footage aspect of the film and lulls the audience into a false complicity.  We’re predisposed to believe this story because it looks real, it sounds true, and the filmmakers are happy to use that foundation to throw in some genuinely spooky stuff.
The movie has been compared to the louder, more obvious Paranormal Activity (2007) but a more intuitve comparison would be a thoughtful crime drama like Broadchurch (2013), where the death of a child tears apart a small town, or the gold standard for creepy small town murders, Twin Peaks  (1990).  Again, (no spoiler), Lake Mungo is not a murder mystery; it’s merely the story of a family dealing with loss, and finding a ghost.

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