There aren’t many horror films quite like Lake Mungo. Nestled between the two found-footage titans, The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, Joel Anderson’s utterly engulfing faux-documentary never got the audience it deserves. But over a decade on, Lake Mungo still earns its place as one of the sub-genre’s glittering successes. As a new limited edition Blu-Ray release arrives today from Second Sight Films, it’s about time that Anderson’s one and only directorial effort gets the attention it totally merits.
The film spends its entire run-time in the documentary style, charting the tragic drowning and subsequent investigation into sixteen-year-old Alice Palmer, who lived in the small Australian town of Ararat. As it’s a horror, all kinds of ideas are put forward – potential kidnapping, accidental death, and even the supernatural – but Lake Mungo never lets its audience rest on one idea, constantly throwing curveballs that’ll always take you by surprise. The documentary format works perfectly for the home-town aesthetic of Ararat, building up a cast of truly believable inhabitants with innate flaws and selfish human desires – and at many points, you’ll wonder if the supernatural even exists, or if the horror all comes from the people we hear from.
Lake Mungo is a pastiche on the true-crime genre before places like Buzzfeed and Netflix were even releasing documentaries on unexplained disappearances and grisly crimes. While many horrors toy with the idea of creating fictionalised ‘true events,’ Lake Mungo absolutely goes for it, demolishing the boundary between fact and fiction with dazzling effect. The detailed Vox pops, the news reports, the wealth of photographs – it all feels ripped straight out of a mid-noughties crime doc.
But what it has over real-life documentaries is a level of grisliness and innate horror that totally grips viewers, even when Anderson plays it subtle. A lot of the initial fear is built from the convincingness of the testimonies, rather than any visual threat, and the massive question marks surrounding Alice’s disappearance. Like your average Netflix doc, it then takes turns that will totally wrong-foot you. There’s at least two or three instances where you’ll feel like you know what happened to Alice, before something new throws you completely off-kilter – and it’s the conviction with which these twists come off, that’s testament to the engrossing direction and convincing performances. Even its ending is entirely up for interpretation, which makes the film all the more lingering, even when it’s over. When it wants to scare you, it does so with truly brain-shredding skill, producing some scares that are genuinely hard to erase from the mind. Not many horror films truly get under your skin, not quite like Lake Mungo does, and it earns itself a place as one of the scariest films this reviewer has ever seen.
And really, it’s all down to the expert direction, and vision, of Joel Anderson. That he directed this film and then entirely disappeared after its release only adds to the mystique that hovers around Lake Mungo, making its unsettling aura all that more real. It’s equally interesting that in this new release, his input is nowhere to be seen on the special features – his life is now as much up for interpretation as the events surrounding Alice Palmer, and that makes the film even more of a lingering presence once the credits have rolled.
It’s as much a film about the human psyche, trauma and grief as it is straight-up horror – which makes it even more impressive how ingrained some of its terrifying imagery will become once you’ve seen it. There’s no found-footage film quite as convincing, or as unceasingly atmospheric, as Lake Mungo, and this Second Sight re-release may finally help the film garner the audience it absolutely deserves.
Lake Mungo is available now on limited edition Blu-Ray, courtesy of Second Sight Films.