Lake Mungo Review

Ararat, Victoria, Australia, 2005. When sixteen-year-old Alice Palmer (Talia Zucker) accidentally drowns, her family are devastated. But then strange things begin to happen: Alice’s image appears where it shouldn’t, in the background of still photographs and video footage. The Palmers call in parapsychologist Ray Kemeny (Steve Jodrell) to investigate, and the family finds out that there was more to Alice's life than at first appeared...

The narrative gambit of presenting an entirely fictional story as if it were real, found footage, has become a familiar one over the last decade. Ten years ago, we had The Blair Witch Project and The Last Broadcast, and more recently there have been the likes of Cloverfield and, just leaving British cinemas as I write this, Paranormal Activity. Lake Mungo is a variation on this, in that it takes the form of a traditional documentary, with talking-head interviewees identified by captions. There are no “reconstructions” as such, though the relevant still photographs and video footage are presented as such.

Given this narrative strategy, Lake Mungo is inevitably visually quite restrained. Apart from some shots of Alice’s corpse and a video-captured sex scene, there’s nothing graphic on display. Instead director Joel Anderson builds up unease through Alice’s fleeting appearances in the photographs and footage, and an intricate sound design including Dai Paterson’s music score. (The film has been bought for a US remake, due in 2011, though I can’t help fearing that that will feature a more overt music score and a lot more jump scenes. No doubt time will tell.)

The mostly unknown cast do a good job of not appearing to be acting, and the fake-documentary effect is well sustained. (Talia Zucker had had a small role in Ned Kelly but had only done TV before this. Steve Jodrell is better known as a television director, with one cinema feature, 1988's underrated Shame.) A left turn involving a neighbour does come over as contrived – why is he breaking in just at the moment when Alice appears on camera, and how come no-one hears him? It’s also surprising that this film was shot in 35mm (with some 16mm), as it would seem a natural for HD Video.

As always with a film like this, either this will demonstrate once again that what you imagine is far scarier than what you see, or you will sit there finding this all much ado about nothing. As for the significance of Lake Mungo itself, that’s something I’ll leave you to discover for yourself.


Lake Mungo is distributed by Madman Entertainment on a single dual-layered disc encoded for Region 4 only.

The DVD transfer is in the ratio of 1.78:1 (opened up slightly from the most likely theatrical ratio, 1.85:1). The picture is sharp where it needs to be, with the fake video footage necessarily soft and fuzzy. It's no doubt sourced from a HD master, as almost all new films are these days, and I had no issues with it.

There are two 5.1 soundtracks available, DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1. There's not a great deal to choose between them, and both are effective. Surround usage is restrained, mostly given over to the music score. The subwoofer is occasionally called upon to augment bass notes in the score and some sound effects. Unfortunately there are no subtitles available.

The commentary features cinematographer/associate producer John Brawley and producer David Rapsey. In the absence of the director, this is a fairly dry talk that concentrates on technical issues so will be of more interest to budding filmmakers.

Deleted scenes follow, seemingly sourced from video, with timecodes in the black bars above and below the image. Oddly, the first, fourth and last ones are not anamorphic, while the others are. It's not hard to see why these were removed, mostly for pacing I suspect.

Also on the disc are the theatrical trailer (1:44), which does not give too much away, and the usual Madman trailers. Following an anti-piracy ad, you can play trailers for Sauna, Infection, Last Ride and Lucky Country.

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