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After Dark Horrorfest 2010: 'Lake Mungo' Review

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Although it will undoubtedly be compared (and perhaps unfavorably) to the watershed "faux documentary" horror flick The Blair Witch Project, the sedate Australian import Lake Mungo is just a bit more unique than that. For one, Blair Witch took place "as it happened," whereas Lake Mungo is sort of an after-the-fact documentary about the death of a young girl -- and the creepy little hints she may have left behind.

It seems logical that this sort of approach would appeal to a first-timer, as it did with Paranormal Activity's Oren Peli and does again here with Lake Mungo's Joel Anderson: if you're new to the craft of filmmaking and you'd like a straightforward approach to a creepy story with a minimum of loose ends and extra headaches, the fake doco approach seems to work surprisingly well. (Hell, throw Cloverfield's Matt Reeves onto the list as well.)

Lake Mungo works best as a slow-burn campfire tale: We begin with a look back at the untimely demise of young Alice Palmer, complete with news footage and interviews with the girl's parents and friends. But her brother starts to notice creepy things afoot when he plays his footage back, and so (yup) he sets up his camera to see if his late sister is somehow trying to communicate from beyond the grave. So while Lake Mungo starts out on the arid side and never really turns into a knock-out horror tale, there's always something to be said for some calm creepiness and restraint. And yes, the cameras do start to pick something up ... from the other side. Or do they?

Like I said, nothing particularly shocking or unique, but Anderson deserves credit for his attention to doco-style detail; the relative "dryness" of the set-up leads to a few unexpectedly creepy moments -- and one or two that are really quite scary. Although perhaps not as slyly spooky as its American cousin (Paranormal Activity), Lake Mungo still stands as a worthwhile entry in the faux-documentary fright flack section. It plays like a tight little "midnight slate" festival film, so if you approach Lake Mungo with that mentality (it's not a big gory carnage parade) you might earn a few shivers before it's all done with.

After Dark Horrorfest is in theaters January 29nd–February 5th and on DVD March 23rd, titles include: ZMD:Zombies of Mass Destruction, The Final, The Graves, Hidden, Dread, Lake Mungo, Kill Theory and The Reeds.

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