Alice Palmer (Talia Zucker) was a bright and bubbly sixteen-year-old who was on a trip to a popular swimming spot at a local dam near to her home town of Ararat when her family lost sight of her. Though they searched for the girl, there was no evidence of her to be found, and they were forced to call the police. The cops called a diving team as they suspected she had drowned, and the family were sent home, stunned and feeling very strange not to have four in the car journey as there had been on the way out, and the next day they received the news they had been dreading: Alice's body had been found on a ledge beneath the water. Her father Russell (David Pledger) had to identify her, as her mother June (Rosie Traynor) was too distraught...
That would appear to have been the end of it, and the beginning of the grieving process, but something about Alice not only lives on their minds, but apparently their house as well as they suspect her spirit is unquiet and is haunting her home with mysterious sounds such as inexplicable bangs, and on occasion someone seems to be outside the window, but disappears on further inspection. You're thinking, yeah, we’ve all seen those Paranormal Activity sequels, they made a dozen of them, surely, and we don't need to see yet another version, but Lake Mungo was rather different while being kind of the same, taking the haunted house theme and working small wonders with it.
Joel Anderson was the mastermind behind this low budget chiller, and it was obvious he was one of The Blair Witch Project generation of horror filmmakers who had noted the huge profits that cheapo production had gathered and hoped to cash in with a similarly low-cost effort of their own. Many of these were blatantly retreading the scares from that 1999 film to the extent they could basically be termed unofficial remakes (or rip-offs, should you prefer), but certain filmmakers demonstrated nous and imagination and crafted something more special than what could have been dispiritingly unoriginal. Such was the case here in a work that was easily judged to be just as effective as the American movie it drew from.
This was Australian, and Anderson adopted the form of a television documentary, a feature-length one that set out the "facts" of the case and, just like the real thing, withheld information until crucial moments to generate the twists and turns that was the bread and butter of reportage. There were the talking heads - the family, the friends, the police, the characters pulled into this mystery - the footage of the deceased and other relevant clips, the still photographs that lent an authenticity to the proceedings, the ominous, droning, electronic music (by David Paterson) and so forth, just about the only element the director left out was the dramatic reconstruction, presumably thanks to its potential for breaking the spell of the rest of what was remarkably convincing as a document of a real life spooky yarn otherwise.
Whether this proved how easy it was to spin a line of bullshit in these lifestyle television channel staples or not was up to the taste of the viewer, though you could imagine someone who had no notion this was fake being taken in pretty easily, at least until the end credits rolled and all was revealed. For that reason it was better not to know too much about the plot to Lake Mungo, certainly not why it was so-called, before you settled down to watch it, but if you wanted a flavour of what you were in for then imagine a cross between a paranormal television documentary and David Lynch's cult prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The footage and snaps that showed off the scary stuff were very accomplished, and even the most jaded horror fan might find themselves not only unnerved but jumping too, it was that well achieved. Fair enough, it was unavoidably following in the footsteps of an overfamiliar style and did not completely escape those clichés, but it was impressive within those parameters.