Lake Mungo – The Saddest Scariest Movie of the 21st Century


Written by:

Of all the 00’s found footage films none perhaps have achieved the underground adoration of Joel Anderson’s Lake Mungo. The Australian Indy underdog made waves at film festivals but never achieved a full cinematic release, instead sneaking quietly onto DVD and floating insidiously out into the world with little fanfare bar word-of-mouth.  

It deserved so much more. 

Presented as a documentary, the film follows a family’s experiences and investigations into the strange phenomena which plague them following the tragic death of their daughter. 

Made on a shoestring budget, Anderson’s one and only feature film is a feat of less-is-more film-making with high aspirations and incredible potency. Lake Mungo achieves an almost transcendental level of terror by ditching the thrills of Paranormal Activity or Rec (which dominated the scene around the same time) and grappling with existentialism and profound grief. It offers picture and video evidence of life after death, eyewitness accounts of mundane supernatural experiences, reveals fabrications of evidence and in-so-doing reminds us of the fantasy of film. Yet even those reminders of cinema’s innate fakery can’t help cushion the eventual blows. Lake Mungo feels real because it presents itself a fallible documentary, an artifact of pure grief, before it ever tries to remind us we are watching a horror film.  

Like Nicholas Roeg with Don’t Look Now, or Ari Aster with Hereditary, Joel Anderson understands the latent potential of emotional vulnerability. Lake Mungo is, for lack of a better word, a surprisingly sad, even bitter, horror film which conjures up a nightmarish image of isolation and projects it into the never-ending cosmos of the afterlife.

Anderson seems to take inspiration from Twin Peaks. Both David Lynch’s Laura Palmer and Anderson’s Alice Palmer (I mean the shared surnames are a giveaway) are similarly doomed figures. Both characters are seemingly ordinary young women: popular, pretty and beloved, but eventually supernaturally tortured. The death of both results in a spiral of increasingly disturbing revelations which leads straight to existential horror via seedy secrets. It’s a horror which cannot be penetrated by light from any source giving little solace to the viewer or characters at any point. 

Without succumbing to jump scares, Anderson instils chills with the slightest insinuation. Most of the work is done through reflections, glimpses, and even the core paranoia; that maybe someone you love is living a nightmare that you could never understand or save them from. When all is said and done Lake Mungo pulls off one of the finest scares in contemporary horror, a pitch perfect sequence which inspires such dread, it’s tough to shake off once the credits end. Its a finely tuned crescendo to Anderson’s slow careful rumination on mortality, a big slap in the face which provides, in my view, one of the most horrifying variations on a haunting ever devised.

In the 15 years since its release Lake Mungo has achieved cult status and deservedly so. Anderson’s debut is a tour de force not just of found footage, but the horror genre as a whole. Though it’s taken some time, Lake Mungo is starting to be appreciated for what it is: one of the finest horror films of the 21st Century.  


Scott Clark  

Dir. Joel Anderson 

Stars. Rosie Traynor, David Pledger, Martin Sharp, Talia Zucker

Comments are closed.

Verified by ExactMetrics