Saturday, February 6, 2010

After Dark Horror Fest 4: Lake Mungo

Way back in 2006, when the very first Horror Fest was, and they had some advertising budget, the After Dark folks tried the angle of "horror movies TOO INTENSE for regular release". This was two years after Saw had been released to general popularity, however, and none of the movies came anywhere near that level of intensity (to say nothing of gore).

They've dropped that now, and good thing, since Lake Mungo—the last of the eight movies for us—isn't, in fact, a horror movie.

It's a mystery. It's a ghost story. It's a travelogue for Victoria, Australia. But mostly, it feels like a "documentary" on the SyFy channel, without the cheesy narrative. (Actually, the style is very much like a Christopher Guest mockumentary, so if he decides to make one of those again, haunting would be a great topic.)

It's the documentary aspect that guarantees a complete absence of any sort of real visceral shocks or thrills. This isn't Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity style of "hey, we found the videotapes"; this is characters being interviewed after the fact. You know right off the bat none of them died or sprouted tentacles or whatever.

That said, this is a fairly well crafted story of the Palmer family, who loses their daughter while swimming at the lake. (Not the titular Lake Mungo, however.) Then it alternately looks like they were being haunted, and then not, and then haunted, and then maybe just subject to a less supernatural (but creepier!) kind of harrassment, as they try to make sense out of the whole thing.

Along the way we learn a surprising detail or two about the missing Alice and her brother Matthew, and then the mysterious secret of what happened to Alice at summer camp the season before that changed her. (That camp was the titular Lake Mungo.)

The truth will SHOCK you.

Nah, not really. It might give you a little frisson, if I may abuse that word. It won't make a lot of sense. And, on reflection, the big reveal sort of reminds me of The Reeds, where I didn't much care for it either.

This one has a curious message: If you ignore ghosts, they'll go away. I suppose, strictly speaking, that's true. Barring a violent poltergeist like The Entity, you can just ignore anything incorporeal by definition.

But it's not real exciting. I will concede that the time-lapse photography of Victoria is absolutely breathtaking, though it set up a particularly slow, almost soporific, rhythm. (At one point The Boy thought I had fallen asleep. I'm pretty sure I hadn't, but I was sitting back with my eyes half-closed.)

The stinger is kind of interesting (and runs through the first part of the final credits), though still, if you dare call it a horror movie, then it's is a horror movie for people who don't like horror movies. Or being scared much. (Looking at you, Darcy!)

Noteworthy is Talia Zucker, who plays Alice, the missing girl. She never appears in the movie, except on "archival footage", you might call it, and she has no dialogue, I don't think. But she (or perhaps more accurately, the director) manages to create a presence.

I was glad we saw it last. It was so low-key and mild that it would have put me to sleep for the movies that came after it. But it sure ended the festival on a quiet note.

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