Lake Mungo

Lake Mungo ★★★★★


I'll never forget the day I saw a ghost. Or at least I thought I did. My family decided to take a trip to Yellowstone National Park, exploring the canyons and wildlife and hot springs. I was 11 at the time. My mom was eager to stay at the Old Faithful Inn, right near the titular geyser. The design of the Inn is stately, a national historic landmark, and I became excited when my dad told ghost stories about the hotel; stories that he probably looked up online before we embarked on the trip. There was one about a bride of a shipping company owner that had long been debunked, her body found in a bloody bathtub with her head missing, but my imagination was already running. As a kid, history feels overwhelming, often frightening. It's hard to grasp the lives of people who have come and gone. I distinctly remember checking into our room, which was on the first floor, and my dad giving me the ice bucket and asking me to fetch some for us. I stumbled out the door and made a left, following the long hallway for a few minutes until I reached the machine. The look of the Old Faithful Inn is bright, cozy, but a little unsettling. It's as if it's giving off the appearance that nothing's wrong.

Once I got the ice, I turned back and saw, at the end of the hallway, a young boy. Maybe five or six, younger than me was all I could tell at the time. But he was crying. Crying for his mother. Asking where "mommy" was and whimpering. Utterly alone. I walked closer and tried to calm him down. He was in such a state of disarray. I was confused as to how he got lost, especially as it was afternoon in the park and the Inn was mostly empty. As I grew nearer, I noticed that his clothing was very old-fashioned, like out of a time capsule. Could've been just his parent's fashion sense, but I felt uncomfortable about the entire situation. It was only when I crept even closer, say twenty feet, that he turned and ran to his left, my right. His sobs settled down. I had to walk past the area anyway to get to my family's room, but when I did, I noticed that there was a wall where he should've sprinted off to. He couldn't have gone in that direction. He vanished into thin air, as they say.

Needless to say, it freaked me the fuck out. Chills surged through my body. I didn't know what to do, and I remember not telling anyone about it initially. I didn't sleep a peep that night, and the next day, the news broke that Michael Jackson passed away, with headlines on the newspaper outside the hotel. It was a surreal vacation that is indelibly marked by an experience that I can't explain, even today. Often I just chalk it up to my imagination, how maybe he ran to his right and went up the stairs that led to the second floor, but the movement of him sprinting off was so clear, so pristine. As if he wanted me to notice *exactly* where he went. I try not to think about it, I don't have answers for it, much like the phantoms in Lake Mungo. It's a horrifying, painful film, almost beyond measure. I can't think of anything scarier, and I say that without an ounce of hyperbole.

With its mockumentary style, Joel Anderson (please come back, make a new movie for us!) dissects the digital expression in ambiguity, what we see and how our perceptions inform our understanding of the world unknown. Its frenzied, noisy imagery constructs a fear and pain that we may or may not recognize, but the film offers an empathetic glimpse into the process that we'll all confront one day. In addition to its scares, it's delicate, moving, often unbearably honest. The gentle escalation of grief, in all its movements and stages, is so well-staged that I frequently found it hard to watch. Tears flowed from my eyes five minutes before/after I was scared out of my wits, but what lingers is its portrait of a family, the photos existing as documents of a life lived and now passed. Watch it late at night with the lights off, it'll shake you to your core.

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