Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lake Mungo a Fun-Go???

Lake Mungo is an Austrailian film similar in taste to Paranormal Activity, Quarantine, Cloverfield, (insert handheld camera movie here, and here, and here, and ...) the list goes on and on. I usually enjoy these kind of films (I feel the shakiness of them only adds to the trueness of them) and I honestly can't say that I didn't enjoy this one as well, but it did kind of annoy me also. IMDB describes the movie as a drama, horror, and mystery movie. And they are not wrong. It almost seemed that the director,

Joel Anderson, had three different movies in mind, but the studio wouldn’t spring for all three so he just decided to cram them all into one film. Did it work? Inasmuch as my attention was held the entire time I’d say, yes, but as a drama – no; a horror – no; a mystery – okay, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt on that one and say, okay. The movie is filmed documentary style, or should I say ‘mockumentary,’ and opens with interviews with young Alice Palmer’s family. Her father, mother and brother all begin to explain the death of Alice (she drowned in a lake while swimming with her brother) and how shocking it was. The brother, Mathew, explains that he last saw her while jumping in simultaneously, but when he came up from the water, she didn’t. June, Alice’s mother, puts on a mortified face throughout the entire interview process, while Russell, the father, keeps a skeptical pose. The body is found not too, too long after the accident and we’re shown the bluntness of what looks a victim of violence and rape. Russell then goes on to explain that only he witnessed the dead body and only he confirmed the identity. June remains in the car the whole time explaining, “I just couldn’t see her like that.” The movie goes on intertwining various interview portions with the family and friends of the family – all telling the camera how wonderful Alice was and how disappointing, nearly unreal, her death was, hence the drama.

And then the interviewer (who we never see, I guess we can assume its Joel) asks Mathew about his photography. We’re briefly told that Mathew has always enjoyed photography and he even set up an annual lawn project in his backyard where he has snapped a photo of the same spot in the backyard every year since moving into the home using the same lens, flash, photography gibberish, etc. Then the interviewer asked, “What was different about the photo on May 28th?” Mathew went on to explain that everything was the same except for one thing captured in the shot – Alice standing in front of a tree. The camera then zooms into the photo and we see exactly what Mathew told us. It was at this point that Claire asked if the movie was real or faked. I didn’t have an answer for her as the description from OnDemand didn’t say yea or nay. Then we’re brought once again back to the skeptical side of things with Russell, the father. Only this time he’s not so skeptical in revealing that “something” made him wander into Alice’s bedroom shortly thereafter and after finding himself, as puzzled as a jigsaw, sitting in her chair, he actually saw her enter the room. He describes to the camera that the figure at first was very stoic, unmoving, but once she, or it, felt his presence in the chair, she turned and attacked.

We’re not given any footage of this encounter, only the story relayed by Russell.
So now we find ourselves in paranormal territory. So much so that even strangers, or friends – it’s never really explained – were convinced of some “being” being captured in one of their photographs while out camping. Like before, the camera zooms in on the photo and we see a figure in the same red sweatshirt as the figure standing in the backyard, Alice, captured in what looks like a “walking by” motion. The story continues revolving around ghosts, beliefs, and even psychics when we’re introduced to Ray Kemeny, or Steve Jodrell as his parents know him, a local psychic who develops a keen interest in the Alice, June, Mathew and the sightings. He is particularly drawn to Mathew and vice versa – oh, did I forget to mention that Mathew set up a camera during the night and found yet another glimpse of a passing shadow? No? Well, he did – and this leads to the filming of a séance in the Palmer’s kitchen. As we watch the séance, and the nothing happening regarding it, the camera zooms (Joel loves this damn tactic) in on a figure reflected in a hallway mirror. It’s Alice. Again.

Pretty creepy, yeah? Yeah, well then the movie takes an odd turn. One that I certainly didn’t see coming less than an hour into it. When June convinces Russell that he made a mistake in identifying his own daughter’s mutilated body (how else would she keep popping up in photos and film?), they decide to dig up Alice’s grave and have a DNA test done. The results come back unpleasing because it is in fact Alice. So what the hell, right? Well, without going into too much detail, let me just say it. Mathew is the culprit for all of the sightings. All of them. Alice in front of the tree – a spliced photo. A passing shadow in the house – Mathew himself. The reflection of Alice in the mirror – an old home movie paused on a scene with a standstill Alice. Told you he liked photography. But what about the campers who saw her in the distance of their photo? Well Mathew also liked to wear his sister’s sweater and did so that day. He explained that the camera caught him walking through the woods in order to avoid the photo being taken in his direction. Only he didn’t count on other campers filming their own joyous outing and therefore catching, in the background, Mathew casually strolling through the outdoors. Okay, thanks Mathew. Dick. This creepy movie just turned into Catfish and I’m cursing myself for choosing to watch it, even though it was free.

Wait though. I’m not done. No, not by a long shot (I remember thinking it seemed a little too short to be considered a legitimate movie). While Mathew goes on a road trip with Ray, the psychic, for whatever plum dumb reason they provide, June begins to review the tapes that Mathew provided. In the shot of the passing shadow inside the house, June notices something in the corner of Alice’s bedroom. Another figure. Only this one is crouched and appearing to be hiding (from what we now know was Mathew). Oooooh, time to bring back the creepy! So there really was a ghost there? Well, not exactly. You see, the Palmers had neighbors and it just so happened June was able to deduce that the crouching shadow was none other than Garret Long (I think that was his name), the neighbor from next door. So now we dive into the mystery of the movie. What was Garret doing there and how did he get in? After some detective work that would make Sherlock Holmes blush, June discovers what Garret had been searching for late at night in Alice’s bedroom. In the fireplace of her room a videotape sealed in a freezer bag is found. Hmm . . . When they watch the tape, they discover young Alice, Garret, and Garret’s wife, Iris, having a threesome at Garret’s house. Now we’re in full blown mystery-mode.

The Palmer’s, on film, seemed unconcerned that their 16-year-old daughter was having threesomes with their neighbors and left it with, “No, he (meaning Garret) didn’t find the tape. And he won’t. I want him to know we know.” That a girl, June. No Cleaver you are, that’s for certain. What was more concerning to them was the fact that Ray, the psychic, had an encounter with Alice about a month before her death. The Palmer’s were devastated at this revelation. Even Mathew was upset. Dick. From Ray’s videotaped sessions, we learn that Alice wasn’t the happiest girl in the world and was often plagued with bad dreams. Bad dreams so real that they couldn’t help but to come true. What do I mean? Well, after finding out the “type” of girl Alice was and the type of activities she involved herself in, the Palmer’s do some more investigating. They reveal some minor details of a school trip that Alice had taken to . . . drumroll . . . Lake Mungo. Apparently Alice lost all of her favorite jewelry and a brand new cell phone while on the trip. June explains she didn’t think much of it, just an irresponsible teenage girl losing expensive things, no big deal. Soon after the sex tape is revealed though, some of Alice’s classmates reveal their own videos of the Lake Mungo trip taken on their cell phones.

What the Palmer’s now notice in one particular shot is Alice burying something. And so they decide to go out to Lake Mungo and look for the buried treasure. Of course they find the exact spot where she was on her knees (this, regardless that the footage was shot with a cell phone at night) and find another freezer bag containing Alice’s cell phone and her jewelry. Duh da daaaaaaah . . .
So why did she bury her stuff and then lie about it? Easy. She was a liar. And a whore. The two usually go hand-in-hand (with all due respect to any whores reading this). The big finale comes when they decide to watch what Alice filmed on her camera. They find that she strayed from the group and wandered into the night alone with only a recording cell phone to guide her. What she comes across after a while of walking is a figure directly in front of her. Did I mention we’re being shown this footage? We can’t make out who the figure is or why he/she is out in the dark all alone, but as it begins to approach Alice (who doesn’t stop her own assent) the image becomes clearer. It’s Alice. Dead Alice. The same corpse that Russell identified as his little girl. Now we’re brought back to Ray Kemeny’s footage of Alice’s session. She tells him that she’s afraid of dying, “Who isn’t?” she asks, and the movie concludes, not abruptly, with the Palmer’s believing that Alice saw her dead self and became freaked out. So she buried her shit, kept her mouth shut and waited for the inevitable.

Are we pleased? Well . . . not really. Of course not. What the hell did we just watch? The movie is supposedly based on true events, but if that is the case, Joel Anderson is a shitty filmmaker. Aside from Alice’s grandparents describing the wrong date of death, we’re shown at one point a shot of Alice sitting on her bed in 2005, just months before her death, and above her head is a poster of The Beatles’ Love. That album didn’t come out until 2006. Sorry, Joel. “No dice, Jim Rice!” This movie may have been based on true events, but I think it’s too easy to use the term “based.” Hell, the characters in the movie are actors. Remember me saying ‘filmed documentary style, or should I say ‘mockumentary’’ – now you get my meaning.

It’s a fun film, I admit, but it’s just too much. Like three plots crammed into one. The sex tape is never mentioned, or shown, a second time. Russell’s encounter with the ghost in the bedroom is never clarified, and the reasoning behind Mathew and Ray’s own lying is never legitimately explained. What about the sex offenders? Well, make your own guess, because we sure weren’t given one. The only closure we’re left with is, “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” I wouldn’t recommend watching it, but I would recommend reading my review, or letting me describe it to you, because it’s fun to explain.

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