Lake Mungo ★★★½

Ghost stories. They are effective in creeping us out time and time again because they combine two of our innate, most primal fears: death, and the unknown. But unlike the terror-inducing nightmares that are part of a "horror" story, a ghost story strikes the right balance of fear. It's scary, and can certainly leave an ominous feeling behind, but there's also an odd sort of reassurance. We've heard ghost stories since we were children and we have a sense - on some level - of what a ghost is. It's familiar. We understand the dangers going in before we are even introduced, and there's a degree of comfort in that - enough that we allow ourselves to willingly participate. There are rules that ghosts must follow, and that doesn't lend a great deal of diversity to what can be achieved - but it makes the telling of the ghost story as important as the story itself.

Hollywood has spent a significant amount of time bending the rules of a ghost story to move this type of narrative into the traditional horror realm - possessions, manifestations and demons to name a few. But none of these devices are necessary to creep out audiences and leave them literally haunted by what they have experienced.

Lake Mungo is a film that honors a true ghost story, and I haven't watched a movie in a long time that gave me as many chills as this.

I believe that it's best to experience this movie as I did: without knowing anything about it. So without giving anything away, I will say that this film unravels and turns your expectation on its head several times, and you never really have a clear idea of what's coming next.

But the film is not without fault. There are a few glaring contrivances that, while not difficult to get past, leave me recognizing that they could have been harnessed far better than they are. There's also a very real sense that the story's unravelling has little to do with the subjects themselves, who seem along for the ride as spectators rather than active participants in its twists and turns.

But overall, its pure approach to telling a ghost story is what won me over, and it will no doubt leave a lasting imprint - the mark of a great creep-out. It doesn't need elaborate set pieces or devices to engage with our primal fears, instead it honours the basic tenets of ghost lore: a presence, and a secret. And I'll say no more.

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