(Australia - 2008; 2010 US release)
Written and directed by Joel Anderson. Cast: Rosie Traynor, David Pledger, Steve Jodrell, Martin Sharpe, Talia Zucker. (R, 87 mins)
"Alice kept secrets. She kept the fact that she kept secrets a secret."
While it owes a tremendous debt to elder statesmen trendsetters like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), the found footage/faux documentary subgenre really exploded with the runaway success of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2009). PARANORMAL ACTIVITY has spawned three sequels (four if you count Japan's tenuously-connected and still-unreleased-in-the-US PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: TOKYO NIGHT) and countless imitations in the short time since its release, as the subgenre is particularly ideal for ghost stories and demonic possession, as we've seen with films like THE LAST EXORCISM (2010) and the terrible THE DEVIL INSIDE (2012). PARANORMAL ACTIVITY sat on the shelf for a few years before its eventual release (remember how the ads informed us that we demanded it?), which also happened--at least in the US--with the Australian film LAKE MUNGO. Shot in 2007, LAKE MUNGO was made around the same time that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY was starting to be screened at horror festivals but well before it became a pop culture phenomenon with the general public, and while it deals with ghosts and video cameras, it really does stand on its own and can't simply be dismissed as a knockoff. But at the same time, one must acknowledge that LAKE MUNGO very likely only got its belated 2010 US release because of the huge success of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.
To relay any more of the plot would do a disservice to those who haven't seen it, but LAKE MUNGO is ultimately a fright film of surprising depth and emotion, which is not to imply that it forgets its primary mission: there are several sequences in this film that recall--and equal--the level of disturbing creepiness in the "shared dream" sequences of John Carpenter's PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987). Any fan of PRINCE OF DARKNESS feels the hairs on their neck stand just with the mere mention of those scenes. When Anderson breaks out the found footage on a cell phone that Alice buried out of fright while partying at Lake Mungo with friends, LAKE MUNGO establishes its horrific bona fides and cements its place as a modern cult horror classic. The cell phone scene is definitely LAKE MUNGO's money shot, as it were. But all throughout the film, Anderson does such a terrific job of creating an ominous, dread-filled, slow-burning atmosphere that something as played out as a ghost story manages to feel fresh, inventive, and truly terrifying. To date, Anderson, whose only prior credit was a 2002 short, has yet to make another film.
By 2010, the After Dark fests were barely getting into theaters, so no one really got a look at LAKE MUNGO until it turned up on DVD, and it didn't take long for word of mouth to spread via DVD review sites, movie discussion boards, and social networking that there was a little more going on with it than first impressions would indicate and that it really was a sleeper gem that was worth seeing. Aside from being one of the most consistent and convincing in the realm of faux documentaries, it's also one of the most devastating and genuinely scary horror films of the last decade.