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Lake Mungo (2008): Grief Explored Through Found Footage



Lake Mungo (2008) is a chilling, depressing film about a young girl who drowned and how her family copes with the loss. Featuring unsettling, pixelated videos and photos of her spirit as well as a few harrowing twists, this film is now a Ghoul's favorite. Gabe discusses the horrors of found footage and explores some fan theories. Kat explains how your brain plays tricks on you, convincing you of ghosts in the darkness and what spiritualism photography is.


Sources in this Episode:


 

Media from this week's episode:

Lake Mungo (2008)

Strange things start happening after a girl is found drowned in a lake.

Director: Joel Anderson

 

Lake Mungo: Exploring Grief & Mortality in Found Footage Horror

by Gabe Castro


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


Synopsis:

Something bad has happened to Alice Palmer. Lake Mungo is a mockumentary about the untimely death of Alice. We begin with creepy spirit photography, over which we hear a disturbed Alice, ‘I feel like something bad is going to happen to me. I feel like something bad has happened. It hasn't reached me yet but it is on its way. And it's getting closer. And I don't feel ready, I feel like I can't do anything.' When the film truly begins we see interview footage of her family and friends talking about her. Her brother, Mathew, and father explain the fateful day at the reservoir. Mathew and Alice had been swimming when Mathew decided to head back in. After some time he asks, “Where did Alice go?” For the first 20 minutes, this film is a sad Investigation Discovery show about dealing with the unexpected death of a loved one. We learn about how each of Alice’s family members is coping with the loss.


Exploration of Grief:

Her dad has thrown himself into his work in an attempt to shut off the part of him that grieves. A response I greatly related to. There’s nothing like normalcy to distract you from tragedy. However, he’s not quite disconnected as he does recount a vulnerable tale of him visiting Alice’s room after her death. He sat at on her bed and looked around at it, unchanged. Then he saw Alice come into the room, sit at her vanity, and begin to sharpen a pencil. Moments later she looked up, saw him, and screamed for him to, “Get out!”


Her mom has had trouble sleeping and decides to wander the neighborhood late at night to ease her mind. While wondering, she often finds herself in other people’s homes. (Nothing is done about this!) She later seeks out help from a local psychic and develops a strong connection/reliance on him. She also refuses to see Alice’s remains to confirm her death. The journey to see the body is incredibly symbolic as the couple’s vehicle gives them trouble, refusing to drive unless in reverse.


Her brother, though mostly fine, has some inexplicably bruising all over his body which is never addressed as it simply goes away with time. He begins a hobby of photography. With this new hobby, he has decided to photograph their backyard repeatedly, on different days, to mark a change. It’s due to this that things begin to get rather supernatural.


Mathew makes a chilling discovery, finding a shadowy and opaque Alice in one of his photographs. Soon after, another resident of their town captures what appears to be Alice again, this time while he is out at the very place she died. This causes the family to set up cameras throughout the house in hopes of capturing Alice in frame.


Mockumentary/Found Footage:

Mathew’s cameras run throughout the night and at first, there’s nothing to tell. Then, one night Mathew catches Alice walk through the hallway. Later, we see her in the reflections of decorative plates, mirrors, and as a shadowy presence in the dark. I love found footage and this film does a really amazing job of building tension. I’m a sucker for any of those ghost TV shows where they show photos, videos, and voice recordings of supposed spectral beings looming in the background. You strain your eyes and ears to pick up on the spooky presence. Then they usually highlight it by circling the ghost and you think, “Ah ha! There it is!” or they enhance the audio and provide subtitles so you hear exactly what the ghost is communicating.


What I appreciated about this film is that it didn’t feel as hokey or silly as those ghost shows often are. (Don’t get me wrong, I still love them). Lake Mungo gives us slow zooms and a haunting soundtrack that’s too honest. It lingers just too long that you feel uncomfortable, staring into the voided eyes of ghost Alice. The music a natural and solemn track befitting a documentary of a lost loved one, not a silly spectre show on Syfy.


This film is serious and it wants you to focus on the grief and pains of this family that is so desperate to hold onto Alice. These photos provide them with hope that something is incomplete - perhaps Alice isn’t dead and she’s communicating with us so we’ll look for her? Or maybe, something more sinister has happened and she’s been murdered, begging us to catch her killer. These videos allow the family to hold on to those possibilities and even results in them exhuming her body to be sure it’s really her. Remember, her mother never identified her body, only her father and even he is willing to believe he was wrong if it meant she was still out there somewhere.


Which brings me to the first twist of the film and our *spoiler warning* for the episode.


SPOILER ALERTS - The Twists & Terrors

It is revealed that the photo the local townsperson took of Alice was actually not Alice at all but rather, Mathew wearing Alice’s sweater. Which is a strange idea to begin with, why is Mathew wearing her clothes and walking around the place she died? Don’t worry, that is never addressed. After this comes to light, Mathew comes forward and admits that he’s been manipulating the footage and splicing it with home videos of Alice. He claims this was to help his mother and her grief, to inspire her to confirm Alice’s death as she hadn’t identified the body and therefore couldn’t have closure. Weird way to do that but grief is different for everyone. However, there’s a line here that I found strange.


Mathew is asked if these videos essentially did more harm than good to which he responded, “I do think that these videos maybe made it harder for her.” The her he is referring to here could easily be his mother but I felt like he actually meant Alice and was looking at it in hindsight thinking how his forging of the videos invalidated any possibility for the real presence of ghost Alice. If she really is trying to communicate for some reason, then the family would only dismiss her real outcries as another trick from Mathew. However, the family finds a new video of Alice (this time while Mathew is away) and decide that maybe there is some truth to the ghost images. Upon reviewing the videos, her mother sees another presence that isn’t Alice but rather, a man lurking in her room. The mother identifies him as their neighbor. She quickly investigates Alice’s room and finds a secret stash with a VHS tape. The tape contains footage of Alice and the neighbor, and neighbor’s wife, in a threesome. We don’t know when this tape was made but we do know Alice died at 16. The age of consent is 16 in Australia (gross). But these folx should certainly be held responsible. However, they have fled town and simply disappeared (hella sus). Could this be the secret Alice wanted everyone to know?


It’s at this time that Alice’s friends come forward with another video, this one taken before her death. Her and her friends had gone on a trip to Lake Mungo. There, they had fun but at some point Alice became a little distracted and solemn. The video provided is incredibly pixelated because its taken on a phone in 2008. However, the family decides that they see Alice digging under a tree and us viewers have to take their word for it. They visit Lake Mungo and here we find an entirely different twist.


Alice had been digging under a tree. What they find when there is a bag with all of her favorite belongings and her cell phone. Getting rid of your prized possessions is a sign of someone looking to unalive themselves, which makes this revelation heartbreaking. (there’s also another level to this but I’ll mention it in my theories section). On her cell phone, the family finds a horrifying video that will haunt my dreams forever. While wandering Lake Mungo alone and filming video (again, alone), Alice encounters a strange figure in the dark. It slowly moves its way towards her and reveals itself. The figure is Alice, more specifically, dead Alice. Her father recognizes the face immediately as the one he identified when they found her body in the reservoir. The film shows us a comparison and for certain, her disfigured face is eerily similar to Alice’s. This encounter leads Alice to seek out the psychic, the same one her mother found solace in at one point, where she shares with him her nightmares and that awful feeling that something bad will happen or has already happened but she just has