Lake Mungo Is Almost Too Good

Time for a bit of a departure here at the Castle – instead of only being motivated by hatred and contempt, I’m going to make an effort to write about a subject that I actually enjoy. Weird, right? So, without any further ado, let’s take a dip in Lake Mungo!

Okay, one more bit of ado – I just wanted to point out that I seriously opened this post with a bad pun, and then apologize for that.

Sorry. Now let’s move on…

To the sunny shores of Lake Mungo!

Christ, what is wrong with me? Does actual quality make me this nervous? I suppose there’s a safety net available when I’m writing about bad movies – with the calibre of films I tend to write about it would be almost impossible to do them a disservice through bad reviewing.

Take ‘Alive or Dead’ for instance. Had I drunkenly mashed my keyboard with a spatula for half an hour and then posted the result I still would have come up with a better review than that film deserved.

But Lake Mungo… not only is this a film I personally enjoyed, it’s one whose quality I respect, a movie that manages to take the fake documentary, a genre that’s so easy to abuse, and do something novel with it – namely, to make one that was completely believable as a documentary.

Watching it I couldn’t help but think of all the mockumentaries I’ve enjoyed in the past, and how, without exception, they’re filled with things that strip away the façade of verisimilitude. Hell, even the mighty Ghostwatch has that guy doing the terrible American accent, ruining the illusion whenever he’s onscreen.

One could make the argument that this is simple Eurocentrism speaking, and that were I an Australian native who was familiar with all the actors in the film it would play much differently, and I couldn’t argue with that. I’m not familiar with Australian television and cinema, though, and I can only speak as an average North American viewer of the film – and as such, the appearance of reality fundamentally works. The central actors are flawless at presenting themselves as a family reeling after a tragedy, and all the supporting actors perfectly express everything they need to get across.

I’m so used to being not scared while watching these movies that actually experiencing the growing dread that the film engenders was an almost entirely alien experience. Hell, as the film marched on I began to grow suspicious of it: Could this movie possibly earn the tone it was creating? My natural inclination is to guess where a film is going, so how does someone who’s never surprised deal with a movie whose developments are completely unpredictable while never violating the rules of its own world?

Stare blankly at its brilliance? By a key scene a third of the way into the film that’s all I was capable of doing.

And what about that late-film moment? The most startling image I've seen in years! How do you talk about the scene that the entire film is leading up to without flat-out spoiling it? A moment that’s all the more brilliant because the film doesn’t telegraph it at all… which means I could be ruining the film just by alluding to it.

It happens about 8 seconds after this – god, I hope that doesn’t give too much away.

These aren’t pressures one is faced with when complaining about the terrible design of the Praelien.

Fundamentally, before I’m able to describe the wonder that is Lake Mungo, I need to understand how to talk about something that works, as opposed to something that doesn’t. How the hell am I going to review this thing without anything to mock or deride?

Oh, like that. Right. I get it now.

1 comment:

DM said...

This movie just blew me away. Moment to moment it intensifies its atmosphere of curious dread. And the end! The end!