Lake Mungo



Pusan International Film Festival, World Cinema

A convincing mock-documentary style lifts "Lake Mungo" beyond spooky supernatural mystery into the realms of emotional truth-telling.

Throughout a compelling slow build, Aussie writer-director Joel Anderson's debut feature cleaves close to reality, making a climactic otherworldly event earn its shock value and ensuring the resulting disquiet lingers. Equal parts ghost story and potent family drama, this ambitious exploration of death and its aftershocks will reward more discerning genre fans.

Following the drowning death of 16-year-old Alice Palmer (Talia Zucker) in a local dam, a series of paranormal events centered on the family home sends her parents, Russell and June (David Pledger and Rosie Traynor), and younger brother, Matthew (Martin Sharpe), into a tailspin.

After the young woman's ghostly image seems to appear in photographs taken at the dam and on Matthew's video camera, the grieving family turns to a radio psychic (Steve Jodrell) to help them find closure. But he uncovers enough riddle-wrapped mysteries to bury an enigma.

Piecing together the fragments of her troubled life, family and friends begin to wonder how well they knew Alice, especially when the creepy clues lead them to the archeologically significant dry lake of the title, where she camped overnight just before her death.

Enough time has elapsed since "The Blair Witch Project" to allow Anderson's use of handycam and faux-documentary interview footage a semblance of freshness, and the semi-improvized nature of the performances boosts authenticity. Nocturnal camera-phone recordings paradoxically add to a Victorian-period eeriness.

Cinematographer John Brawley's surreal atmospherics are matched by a restrained soundtrack that works on a primal level, issuing a shadow of horror that helps foster a belief in ghosts.

Cast: Rosie Traynor, David Pledger, Martin Sharpe, Talia Zucker, Steve Jodrell.
Writer-director: Joel Anderson.
Executive producers: Bill Coleman, Gilbert George, Robert George.
Producers: David Rapsey, Georgie Nevile.
Director of photography: John Brawley.
Production designer: Penny Southgate.
Music: David Paterson.
Costume designer: Michael Chisholm.
Editor: Bill Murphy.
No rating, 83 minutes.
Production: Mungo Prods.