As in the case of The Broken, another diamond amid the rough of the 8 Films To Die For series is Lake Mungo, appearing in the 2010 HorrorFest IV selections.
Released three years after the phenomenal success of Paranormal Activity ushered in the wave of found-footage style films that continues to this day, Lake Mungo is less found-footage than mockumentary -- continuing in a tradition that goes as far back as 1933, when Orson Welles terrified a nation with his radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, and then later in film, with movies like Man Bites Dog and Dark Side of the Moon.
As with any film that delivers unexpected success, Paranormal Activity inspired a legion of imitators, and the horror genre has been flooded with more and more found-footage hoping to capitalize on the current fad. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, there was a rumor that the long-delayed sequel to the 2009 remake of Friday the 13th will finally go into production...as a found-footage film. I really, really hope it isn't true.
Lake Mungo is brilliantly done. The problem, for me at least, with the term mockumentary is that by name it implies there is an element of mocking involved. Such a tone does exist in the comedic examples of the style like This is Spinal Tap, Borat, and Finishing the Game -- but Lake Mungo is dead serious in its portrayal of the Palmer family in the aftermath of the drowning of their daughter Alice, and with the strange occurrences around their home in the weeks after her death.
The realism is due in no small part to the performances of David Pledger, Rosie Traynor, and Matthew Sharpe, who respectively play the late Alice's father, mother, and brother. They are presented in a series of on-camera interviews, and there isn't a hint of "acting" among the three. The performances are incredibly natural -- including the awkwardness of people not used to talking on camera.
Talia Zucker plays Alice, and every moment of her alive and (reasonably) well is presented in home movies -- with the exception of a cell phone video that appears late in the film, that reveals the terrible secret she had been clinging to.
Now, it wouldn't be a horror film without moments of fright, and I couldn't be more sincere in this appraisal -- there are moments in Lake Mungo that literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and my arms break out in gooseflesh. I was genuinely unsettled, and way creeped out. There is a palpable sense of dread that permeates every frame. We are coming in well after the fact of Alice's death, and everything involved has a funereal, state of mourning feel. The film is a true slow burn, but the third act discovery of Alice's secret is terrifying -- and make sure to keep watching the film over the end credits, because the family's sense of closure is proved to be a tad premature.
Director Joel Anderson made his feature debut with the film, and deserves every credit for crafting such a frightening viewing experience. Much like The Stranger's Bryan Bertino, I find myself shocked that Anderson has yet to make another film, as filmmakers of far lesser films have gone on to work repeatedly. Granted, I'm well aware that neither film set box office records (although The Strangers worldwide haul of $82,391,145 of $9 million is certainly no failure. But I guess that Paranormal Activity's $200 million dollar take from a mere $15,000 budget is more impressive to the studio powers that be), but a quality over quantity argument can certainly be made. I for one am dying to see what they do next.
There had been an American remake of Lake Mungo in the works since late 2008, but it remains to be seen, let alone reach production. I hope it never happens. The original stands for itself, much like Paramount studios decided with Paranormal Activity, when their first instinct was to simply buy the low budget film and remake a bigger, more expensive version. Thankfully, cooler heads (rumored to be influenced by none other than Steven Spielberg who, after seeing the film, said it would be utterly pointless to try and remake it. The lightning in the bottle already existed) prevailed, and they distributed Oren Peli's original, albeit with a reshot ending that created the possibility of future sequels.
Lake Mungo is a small, relatively unknown film. Like The Broken, most horror fans I know are completely unaware of its existence. But trust me on this -- check it out. You won't be disappointed.