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Case Number 18617

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Lake Mungo

Lionsgate // 2009 // 104 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 29th, 2010

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All Rise...

Judge David Johnson vacationed at Lake Mungo in the summer of '93. Oh the wet and wild memories!

The Charge

In 2008, Alice Palmer died. Her nightmare didn't.

Opening Statement

After Dark Horrorfest presents a film that is barely horror…but still one of the better offerings I've seen from the brand.

Facts of the Case

Shot in documentary style, Lake Mungo details the tragic drowning of 16 year-old Alice Palmer and the effects it had on her grief-stricken family and the stunned community. Adding to that, there may or may not be a supernatural component to the events surrounding her death. A ghostly apparition that looks like Alice pops up on video and photographs, forcing the desperate and confused parents to seek counsel from a psychic.

Is Alice's spirit still active in the Palmer household? If so, what does it want? And how come still photos with ghosts in them are so damn creepy?

The Evidence

Lots of still photos with ghosts in them (SPWGIT) here and I'll confess—that stuff gets to me. While Lake Mungo is fiction, the documentary staging works surprisingly well and adds a nice injection of chills when the SPWGITs or video footage with ghosts in them (VFWGIT) make an appearance.

But this is not a horror movie. While there are a small amount of scares—and one noteworthy moment that may just mess you up—writer/director Joel Anderson is more interested in investigating the emotional repercussions on a family dealing with the death of a child than just freaking the audience out. That there is some freaking out to be had is merely a bonus. Lake Mungo finds its value in its surprisingly affecting examination of grief.

The documentary approach is a risk. It limits Anderson's narrative latitude, could be a pacing nightmare and the fact that the story is obviously fabricated takes away some edge. It's an uphill climb and the fact that Anderson and crew make the trek with ease and turn in a genuinely engrossing experience is deserving of a fat amount of credit.

Of course it's not real—and I told myself that repeatedly—but I was still completely hooked and more than a little unsettled when the creepy stuff turned up. Also, Anderson wisely spaces out the plot turns, avoiding the momentum rut that could have easily swallowed up his film.

A lean DVD for you: a clean 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital mix fly solo, as no extras of consequence accompany. What's up with the no-frills After Dark?

Closing Statement

It's not your typical horror film, but there are a handful legitimately scary moments and, anyway, who cares if it's different—Lake Mungo is good.

The Verdict

Not Guilty. Mungo-riffic!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 20
Acting: 85
Story: 85
Judgment: 84

Perp Profile

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Mystery
• Paranormal
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailer


• IMDb

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