Friday, 29 July 2011



At the start it says "This is a record of true events" and at the end it says "All characters and events are fictitious....". What to believe? Many of these pseudo-reality horrors are obviously fictional, despite the sometimes desperate but usually futile efforts by the makers to convince us that they are genuine depictions of genuine events, such as The Blair Witch Project's claims that "they were never heard from again!!!!!" (Of course they were: in the land of the almighty lawsuit they would never have been allowed to release such a film). Whether done as "found footage" (a technique that frankly should be rested for a while as it's getting stale through overuse - I'm looking at you, Paranormal Activity) or as the mock documentary, juxtaposing talking head reminiscence with home video footage of the events concerned, it's usually obvious that it's all one great huge fake.

The Australian film Lake Mungo actually pulls off the mockdoc illusion with considerable success, never allowing the mask to slip. Following the accidental drowning of 16-year-old Alice Palmer, the grieving family become convinced that she might be haunting them: she appears on photographs and in video footage taken after her death, there are noises coming from her old room, and her grieving parents actually see her either in dreams or in reality. Can a talk radio psychic help them? Or is it being faked, and if so why? What distressing secrets was Alice keeping, and what actually happened on the school trip to Lake Mungo?

The chills are for the most part quite subtle and understated (though there is one well timed leap-out-of-your-chair moment): the idea of anything appearing in photographs that shouldn't be there has always been effective - going back to The Omen where inexplicable marks on David Warner's pictures prefigured the subjects' imminent spectacular deaths. Extended zooms into freeze-frame video footage that reveals something that MIGHT be Alice's ghost amidst the flickering pixelated murk also work quite well: these things are on the edge of something that might be genuine rather than vampires and werewolves which we all know aren't: Lake Mungo never goes for the knowingly non-existent, merely the hopefully non-existent: what might be true over what obviously isn't.

And generally it works very well: it doesn't match the bowel-shattering dread of Insidious's first hour of inexplicable spooky events but it's still a creepy and cover-your-eyes piece of work, especially as they even suggest that some of their own clearcut evidence for the haunting has actually been doctored, before revealing "the truth" at the end (note: watch right through the end credits rather than switching off as soon as director Joel Anderson's name appears). I found it quite unsettling, and that's when watched just after lunchtime. If I'd watched it at midnight it might well have been even creepier. Recommended for afternoon viewings and if you've something to hide behind.


Mungo here:

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