Recently, I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of watching Youtube videos by an amazing young film lover named Ryan Hollinger. Hollinger’s deep takes on genre films bring a fresh perspective on widely popular, beloved movies, TV shows and other media, that they help inform my own critical analyses on the topics he discusses. They’re thoughtful without being pretentious, and display his clear love of pop culture and cinema.
It’s from Hollinger that I discovered this week’s Sweet Streams film, Lake Mungo. Hollinger titles his video on the film, “The Saddest Horror Film You’ve Never Seen.” I’d actually never heard of the 2008 Australian film, and now I find myself quite obsessed with its intricately told storyline and how much more twisted it becomes as it goes. It’s important to preface that Lake Mungo, depicted in a documentary style film, is a mockumentary; the story, characters and sequences are all false, but it’s so convincingly real, and written so well, you wouldn’t know the difference or care.
Lake Mungo tells the story of the Palmer family and the strange, supernatural occurrences they experience after the accidental drowning of teenage daughter, Alice. On the surface, Alice was just like any normal teenaged girl who did teenage girl things. But after death, her presence loomed large over the family in peculiar ways, that the Palmers started to think there was something quite extra about her in life.
After her death, Alice’s brother, who practices photography, starts to see blurry images of Alice captured in his photographs. This leads the family to exhume Alice’s body test for a DNA sample to see if the body could actually be someone else; it isn’t, Alice’s mother gains closure from not previously claiming Alice’s body when it was found. Matthew then sets up cameras around the house to see if other signs of Alice’s presence turns up. Small signs show up here and there, but Matthew then goes on to confess that he faked the photographs and footage. However, Alice’s mother sees movement in the footage of a camera set up in Alice’s room, and it turns out to be Brett, the next door neighbor. She investigates Alice’s room afterwards and discovers evidence of Alice in a sexual relationship with Brett and his wife, whom Alice used to babysit for. More discoveries leads to a twist, which leads to a bigger plot twist, until you’re caught up in the most chilling twist ending you won’t soon forget (I know I won’t).
Lake Mungo deals in fabricated horrors (in more ways than one), but channels the very real theme of grief, and the personal tragedy of Alice not being able to feel seen or understood within her circles in life. Hollinger was right; Lake Mungo is ultimately a sad film, and the more ways you learn how Alice felt trapped in life withholding numerous secrets about herself that she grappled to deal with, the more chilling and sad it becomes. And that ending— don’t watch it if you plan to sleep comfortably that night without its remaining images in your head.
Lake Mungo is available to stream on Tubi, Amazon Prime, Youtube, Google Play, and Vudu.
Aimee Murillo is calendar editor and frequently covers film and previously contributed to the OCW’s long-running fashion column, Trendzilla. Don’t ask her what her favorite movie is unless you want to hear her lengthy defense of Showgirls.