Stanley Kubrick mentioned to Stephen King that a ghost story was hopeful because it assumed there was life after death. In Kubrick’s case, he was speaking about The Shining, but hope is a strange thing to envision in Joel Anderson’s faux docudrama Lake Mungo. In the film, a family deals with the facts in the case of the mysteriously drowned, Alice Palmer (Talia Zucker). The homage to Twin Peaks is not merely in the name of the dead heroine, the film endeavours to create a layered character study of Alice. Much like Lynch’s surreal serial, the film is filled with revelations about Alice’s life shortly before she drowned. The movie follows a set pattern, not quite found footage, it displays the static camera shots, capturing paranormal events in-between interviews with the family and friends of Alice Palmer. However, Lake Mungo is not simply content to scare the audience. What’s at stake is much more important than jumpscares or creep out apparitions.
The film plays an interesting game of point, counterpoint, showing a ghostly image, the spectre of Alice appearing in a still photograph, her face reflected in a mirror, only to suddenly show the ghostly apparition was fake. In this way, the film is its own skeptic. Using the form of docudrama, it creates a sense of ‘reality’ documenting the narrative through interviews and underlining the realism of its subject. This disproving, acts as a way to further legitimize the supernatural elements when they arrive. Because the film has gone out of its way to disapprove some things, when an event happens like Alice’s fateful last cell phone video the audience is left feeling the heightened impact of sighting a real ghost in the midst of fakes. Much like the docudrama form, the film tells us that what’s being shown is a filmmaker’s construction, but wins the viewer over by the authenticity of the actors and the ingenuity of the filmakers.
Another aspect of the film is that fate and existence maintain a shaky equilibriam. Somehow consciousness is a trap, one that we are lucky enough to be snared in. By the end of the movie, the audience can only conclude that death is loneliness. Alice’s family has mourned and moved on. The viewer then gets a fleeting glimpse of Alice, still stuck in the timewarp of existence, wanting contact from a world that no longer belongs to her. Perhaps the reason Lake Mungo is so affecting is because of this existential horror pulsing through the narrative. The sheer terror comes not from Alice’s sordid, hidden life or that she recognized her fate, but that life is all we have. According to the film, death holds no hopeful reunions, only unanswered questions, a shadow world that must be navigated in utter solitude.
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