2010’s ‘Lake Mungo’ is a horror drama film directed by Joel Anderson that utilizes growing dread-inducing grief to instill a creeping terror in the audience. The film follows the Palmer family after the harrowing loss of Alice, Russell and June’s sixteen-year-old daughter, and Matthew’s sister. Shortly after Alice drowns in a dam, weird things start happening around the Palmer house, resulting in a visit from popular psychic Ray Kemeny. Unable to move on and perpetually haunted by Alice’s absence, the family finds a trail of details that uncover a secret part of Alice’s life.
The narrative remains a mystery throughout its runtime, with Russell, June, and Matthew constantly questioning details surrounding Alice’s afterlife. Furthermore, the film’s format as a mockumentary employs various photographic/video formats to advance the plot, which leads to an ambiguous ending. Therefore, if you’re curious to get answers about the film, here is everything you need to know about ‘Lake Mungo.’ SPOILERS AHEAD!
Lake Mungo Plot Synopsis
On December 21, 2005, in the small Victorian town of Ararat, June Palmer called the emergency line to report her daughter’s random disappearance following a family trip to the local dam. The police look for Alice with the help of SES Divers, who use SONAR to detect her body, drowned in the water. Alice’s mother, June, couldn’t find the strength to see her daughter’s body, preferring to keep a brighter impression of her for her last memory. As such, Alice’s father, Russell, goes in and identifies the body as their daughter.
Eventually, the family has a funeral for the girl yet finds no closure. In fact, half a month after the funeral, the Palmers start noticing weird noises from around the house, especially in Alice’s room. Furthermore, even the family’s friends, like Georgia Ritter, describe the house as gut-wrenching. Soon, June’s nightmares start rolling in, preventing her from sleeping at nighttime. Instead, she takes to nightly runs and breaks into people’s houses, desperate to live out someone else’s life.
Inversely, Russell throws himself into work. Nevertheless, one night in late February, Russell is drawn to Alice’s room, where he witnesses his daughter doing regular things until she notices him and drives him out of his room with her screams. Likewise, Matthew copes with the loss in his own way and starts spending more time developing his photography hobby. As one of his projects, Matthew has been taking the same picture of his backyard every three months for four years. However, when he took the picture on April 28th, the developed copy came out with a photo of Alice standing near the fence.
Similarly, another town resident, Bob Smeet, captures a photograph on April 3rd with an obscure but unsettling picture resembling Alice’s silhouette in the background. Since June never saw Alice’s dead body, she becomes convinced that her daughter is still alive somewhere and convinces Russell of the same. Nonetheless, their fragile belief breaks after a DNA test confirms the body found in the dam belongs to Alice.
Still, Matthew decides to investigate further after continuing to hear a noise across the house and sets up cameras in the hallways. Soon, the cameras catch irrefutable evidence of a shadowy figure moving within the house. As a result, June contacts Ray Kemeny, a known psychic who works with sick, dying, or dead individuals. Under Ray’s guidance, the family holds a seance, which Matthew records. Although nothing happens during the seance, Matthew notices an image of Alice in the background while he reviews the recorded footage.
Eventually, the Withers couple realize that they took a video on the same day as Bob Smeet and learn that their footage captured another angle of the silhouette caught by Smeet. As such, they discover that the silhouette is just Matthew wearing Alice’s jacket. Consequently, Matthew reveals that he has been faking all the photos/video footage. As such, June goes through Matthew’s videos and finds startling secrets about Alice’s past.
Lake Mungo Ending: Did Alice See Her Own Ghost?
The first thing Russell and June discover about their daughter’s past is their affair with Brett and Marissa Toohey, their next-door neighbors. Alice started babysitting for the Tooheys when she was 13/14 and continued for the next few years. Therefore, when June catches Brett Toohey on Matthew’s recorded footage of the house, it encourages her to look through her daughter’s room. As a result, she finds a hidden safe, where she finds a sex tape of Alice with Brett and Marissa.
The discovery makes Alice’s friends and family realize that they didn’t know Alice as well as they thought. Afterward, June looks into Alice’s belongings further and learns that Alice had a consultation with Ray Kenemy on 21 July, five months before her death. In her session with the psychic, Alice talked about nightmares that correspond with one of June’s dreams about Alice following her death.
Gradually, Alice’s belongings led her family to Lake Mungo, where she had her school camp in August. Since one of Alice’s friends recorded a video showcasing the girl burrowing something under a tree, the family starts looking for Alice’s hidden belongings in Lake Mungo. To their surprise, they find a plastic bag with Alice’s most precious possessions inside: her favorite necklace, a watch, and her brand-new phone.
As they rifle through the phone, the Palmer family finds an unnerving video of Alice roaming around the empty field until an eerie figure comes at her from the shadows, leading Alice to run away in terror. Worse yet, Russell recognizes the eerie figure: it’s Alice’s waterboarded dead body that he identified months ago. Since no other explanation is possible, the conclusion remains: Alice saw the ghost of her own future.
Through tidbits of Alice’s life found through her planner and diary entries, we learn that Alice has been thinking about her death for quite some time before the event. Her dreams were plagued with ghostly situations that repeated in her mother’s nightmares, possibly haunted by her daughter’s presence. Therefore, when Alice faces her corpse, it gives her the final confirmation of her death.
As such, Alice buries her belongings in Lake Mungo as a premature funeral or an attempted deal with the universe to keep the horrors she witnessed in the field contained within the area. The uncertainty of her motivations further solidifies the narrative’s disconnect from her character. The audience can never know Alice’s motives or beliefs because she’s always a ghost inside the narrative.
Is Alice a Ghost?
Alice’s ghostly haunting of her family remains the central focus of the plot for the film’s bulk. However, since most of the evidence for the argument resides within photographed mediums or remembered memories, it’s hard to come to a conclusion. Alice’s first ghost spotting when Russell sees her in her room can easily be explained as a grieving father hallucinating a present he wished he was in. Russell wants Alice to be in her room going about her day. Therefore, that is what he sees. Since the argument against that sighting is as uncircumstantial and conveniently made as the argument for it, the instance is better left ignored.
Additionally, most of the photographic evidence that the Palmers have about Alice’s presence within the house is proven to be counterfeited by Matthew. Alice’s brother witnesses his mother spiral into a delusional state after his initial trick photo convinces her that Alice might still be alive. Therefore, he continues to counterfeit more to feed into her delusion.
Matthew claims to have no ill intentions at heart, and perhaps he truly thinks the exercise will help June make peace with her daughter’s death. Nevertheless, because of his faked encouragement, the idea of Alice’s ghost becomes a reality for her parents. Ultimately, after learning about Alice’s past at Lake Mungo, the family comes to a startling realization that the house no longer feels haunted by Alice’s ghost.
From the film’s beginning, Alice’s ghost is always presented as a manifestation of her family’s grief metaphorically. The Palmer house is haunted. However, Alice’s cutting absence haunts the hallways rather than her ghost. As such, once the family learns more about the details surrounding Alice’s death, including the fact that she was privy to it beforehand, it helps them find some closure.
Still, the house remains haunted by Alice and her memories. Consequently, when June goes for a final consultation with Ray, she walks into her home within the mind exercise and finds Alice’s room empty. Inversely, Alice, still stuck inside the house, only watches her mother ignore her and leave for her own session with Ray.
Ultimately, the legitimacy of Alice’s ghost is up to the viewers’ interpretation. There’s a reason the film only provides evidence for her haunting through photos that can be edited and videos that can be faked. Even in the end, as we see a montage of Alice’s inexplicable presence, it’s up to the audience to decide whether to believe them or take them as another trick shot. Nonetheless, for the Palmers, Alice is undoubtedly a ghost whose chilling presence exchanged their beloved daughter/sister’s hurtful absence.
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