Like comedy, horror is completely subjective. What one may find scary, someone else will get little to no reaction from it. However, it’s always a fun discussion amongst horror fans when asked the question: “What is the scariest film you’ve ever seen?”
It seems that everyone has a different answer, with common responses ranging from classic films like “The Exorcist” and “The Blair Witch Project” to newer ones like “Hereditary” or “Midsommar”. While these films are unnerving and at times genuinely horrifying, there’s a film that is truly haunting: a film that will stick with the viewer long after watching, and one that does so on a fraction of the budget of these other films. The movie is “Lake Mungo.”
It’s understandable that many have not heard of this film in the first place. Released in 2008, “Lake Mungo'' is an Australian mockumentary that was made for a miniscule budget of just over $1.7 million ($1.2 million USD). The film was shown around at numerous film festivals before being quietly released direct-to-DVD.
Only in recent years, with YouTubers like Ryan Hollinger and Dead Meat, has the film received a decent cult following. The reason being that many are starting to notice how this film can be so chilling by doing very little.
The story centers around the Palmer family who have been struggling after the loss of their daughter, Alice. Each of them deals with death in their own unhealthy way and begins to notice strange happenings around their home. Soon, what appears to be the spirit of Alice begins to pop up in photographs and security footage. However, as the film goes on, the viewers learn that like Alice herself, there’s much more hidden in plain sight.
The reason that “Lake Mungo” is so effective in its horror is how genuinely real the film feels. As a mockumentary, it could’ve been very easy to come off as cheesy, but casting unknown actors is a good start. However, it is helped even more by the fact that writer/director Joel Anderson gave the actors no written dialogue, simply an outline of where the story needed to go. This allows for every moment and conversation to feel raw and genuine, and at times the film feels like a genuine documentary.
“Lake Mungo” is a slow burn horror film, as there are scary scenes sprinkled throughout, but none of them are jump scares. There’s something much more unsettling about the slow, quiet lingering of the photos, and the grainy quality only adds to creepiness. Now, the film does have one jump scare. However, it’s not a loud “BOO!” scare like something out of “Paranormal Activity”, but one that is genuinely horrifying. It’s a scene that I dare not spoil for anyone, but understand that when people point out how scary this film is, they will always mention this scene.
“Lake Mungo” is a horror film that works so well because of how genuine it is. The movie works as a horror film, but also stands as a great family drama. The emotions of the characters are easily identifiable and at sometimes, unfortunately, relatable. When you first start the film, it might seem slow, but once the paranormal elements begin to take shape it’ll have you completely invested. I can’t guarantee that it’ll scare you the way it has others, but the movie will certainly stick with you long after watching.
“Lake Mungo” is currently streaming on Shudder, Tubi and Amazon Prime.