Serial Experiments Lain

And you don’t seem to understand…

Lain Review

I get the need for explanation and for answers, but for some things I can’t help but feel it’s a self-defeating pursuit. There is a certain joy in having the mechanics unfurled in front of you, to see the way the gears and the cogs interweave, but it’s a cold inspection rather than a full blooded fondness. Arguments have been made that if something requires explanation to admire, it’s not worth the time to begin with. I don’t quite adhere to that, but there is a vein of truth to it. If the only joy in a piece of opaque and abstract art is in attempting to make it unambiguous then it can often reveal itself to be merely self-satisfied.

Serial Experiments Lain is deeply opaque and abstract, but also deeply self-dissatisfied. It’s a show buzzing with anxieties and dissociation, a world in which existential dread is a pervasive normality. It’s not interested in pandering a philosophical worldview or a moral imperative, though it evokes several of them. Serial Experiments Lain is more about a state and a sense of perception, one that wilfully disconnects from its narrative structure to better communicate a sense of disconsolate tone and claustrophobic emotion.

Serial Experiments Lain centres around, well, Lain, a shy and reserved school girl who finds herself enraptured by and (perhaps literally) drawn into the Wired. From the very first frame the show appears to operate on technological dream logic. Suburban streets sprawl and cascade into spreads of consuming white, black and red. Lain is surrounded by a pervasive electrical hum, as telephone wires wrap and twist themselves around her entire town. In its opening episode, the show captures a sense of anxious isolation like a soft and hypnotic drone. It’s a state of awareness where everything seems intense and immediate but we and Lain are unable to give any of it focus or life. The world around us is constant and overbearing, but we can’t discern its individual elements.

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Lain’s distant perception of the world runs in contrast to her view of the Wired. In reality, she is shy, soft and scared. In the Wired, she is articulate, confident and brave. The duality of identity is an omnipresent theme in Serial Experiments Lain, particularly in terms of the self-perceived identity. The entire world the show inhabits is one constructed by Lain’s perceptions, contorting and twisting to fit the vision she has of it.

Lain’s central concern becomes her vision of her as a God. The Wired gives her the capability to be fully in control of her identity, to construct a version of herself that isn’t subject to the perception of others. In reality she finds suffocating ambiguity, but in the Wired she can find comfort in the observable nature of raw data. Lain’s ‘real’ world is depicted as numbing in its expanse and terrifying in its nebulousness. While the Wired is all text, the simplicity and comprehensibility of it, to Lain, makes it palatable. And eventually, effervescent.

The identity split that forms within Lain is one that could stem from many different issues, from autism to depression to deeper issues of psychosis, but diagnosis of her character is irrelevant. The crux of the show is not to explain or demystify the complications that expand within Lain, but to take her identities to their logical conclusion. The Wired is safety to her, but immersing herself in it only leads to a different sense of disillusionment and a further stripping of who she is. The central melancholy of Lain is that even though her identities seem to grow powerful and ubiquitous, there is no ‘her’, no central entity from whom it all flows By absorbing herself deeper into the Wired and fracturing herself further and further, she loses the sense of self she was attempting to gain from this world.

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Lain is mirrored by Masami Eiri, creator of the Wired. To him, his hand in its inception guarantees him the right to a Godlike status. But his existence is solitary and meaningless without others and when he emerges back into reality, he is nothing but grotesquery and flesh without a mind of his own. But while Eiri lacks a human desire and reason to exist in the corporeal world, Lain retains her best friend Alice. However, Lain’s ascent (or descent) into Wired Godhood destroys their friendship, with Alice traumatised and unable to relate or comprehend Lain. Lain feels her only option is a full reset, to remove herself from everyone’s lives and save Alice ever having known her.

For a show that spends much of its time tangling itself up in narrative and philosophical cables, the most honest moments come from Lain’s final decision. For me, the only reading that feels correct is one of cowardice, one of a scared girl who sacrificed a singular identity for a breadth of shapes and forms. Yet none of them are her, and she attempts to justify it as expansive Godhood. Her inability to deal with her friendship compromised it, and though her feelings for Alice remain relatively ambiguous, there is certainly a trace of repressed sexuality in Lain. For Lain, seemingly everyone in the Wired loves her, yet the one person she herself loved won’t or can’t return those feelings.  It ends up as too much to be bear, and so she hits reset.

At the end of the show, Lain seems content to merely be a shape of her former self who watches the lives of those she cares about from afar. She resigns herself to that of a a small, fond, distant memory, rather than face that rejection again. For Lain, that pain of being pushed away is too much, so she pushes back until nothing of her remains.

While all this might seem heady and pretentious, Serial Experiments Lain actually carries itself with a brash and unforgiving harshness. Aesthetically the show emphasises the punk in cyberpunk, with a mix of Godard, Tsukamoto, Lynch and Nicolas Roeg. The musical score IS part techno-club dance beat and part shrieking, scraping rock guitar. The zeitgeist like approach to conspiracy laden imagery suggests a self-awareness that embraces the notion that Lain’s perception of herself is a falsity, and we are merely seeing her own obsessions come to life.

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However, what’s truly special about a show like Serial Experiments Lain is that you could read all of this and think we watched something entirely different. The density of the show allows for everyone to engage with in different ways and to different levels, and it’s certainly not because of a reliance on cheap ambiguity and wide open interpretations. You could read Lain as a show entirely about tone and atmosphere, or as an actual sci-fi opus, or as many other things as you desire. But that’s not what I read it as.

For me, Serial Experiments Lain is a personal, affecting experience about our disassociated identities and how they clash with those close to us. It’s about hiding and fleeing from those you love and care about because you’re scared that how you present yourself doesn’t sync up with who you truly you are. It’s not a show about the anxiety of technology, it’s a show about the anxiety of ourselves, with our brittle, easily broken forms. We spend so much of our time craving admiration, acknowledgement and affection in any form so we wear any face to get it. And we ignore that the only people worth being loved by are those we sometimes try so desperately to push away, because there is fear in being open and honest and singular. It’s a commitment to letting someone know you and giving them the opportunity to hurt you, or even to hate you one day.

But what Serial Experiments Lain tells us is this: “If you aren’t remembered, then you never existed.” Even Lain, with her seeming omnipotence, doesn’t exist. Because she has no one who thinks of her.

The Wailing

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What’s in a title?

Good horror movie titles are gloriously uncomplicated, but belay so much beneath their darkened veneer. The Shining. The Exorcist. The Thing. The Haunting. The Evil Dead.

The Wailing.

The Wailing, an epic of a horror film that clocks in at around two and a half hours, has a title that recalls Shirley Jackson or perhaps even Edgar Allan Poe. But this is a relentlessly, unquestionably modern horror film, knotted and twisted with 21st century fears. It’s a film about religion, the decay of cultures and the role of a patriarch. It’s a film about the fear of the foreign and insular, wilful ignorance.

But most importantly, it’s a film about a father and his daughter.

Jong-goo is a police officer in the small mountain town of Goksung, where a variety of murderous outbreaks have occurred. Jong-goo eventually begins to suspect a Japanese stranger living in the mountains, his belief reinforced when his daughter, Hyo-Jin, appears to fall under the same possession-like trance as the other victims.

Director and writer Na Hong-Jin’s previous films have been anarchic in their narrative construction, often losing themselves in a mire of messy side characters before closing dourly and a little too succinctly. However, The Wailing’s foreground storytelling is some of his finest, driven by an admirably committed and range spanning performance from Kwak Do-won. The breadth and length of the film can seem at first overwhelming, but the melding and shifting tones keep it alive and buoyant for the entire running time. Just when things seem to be falling into a routine, Hong-Jin composes another frothing and dazzling set-piece, whether that be the most bombastic exorcism in film to date or a brief excursion into gloriously gory Sam Raimi territory.

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However, The Wailing’s most effective moments concern the central father and daughter dynamic. Jong-goo is not a stoic, alpha masculine father out to save his daughter. He is clumsy and foolish. He is prone to anger and strives to a machismo he could never hope to actually achieve. But he’s also vulnerable and sad. His attempts to save his daughter are galvanised by their warm and convincing relationship early in the film, and his failings transmute from quirky and amusing to rich with genuine pathos and tragedy.

Indeed, the final act of the film is uncompromising and piercingly sad. It’s a reminder that the most effective horror films need to be more than scary, disturbing and shocking, but that they must be mature and adult in ways few aspire to be. There is nothing cheap about the denouement. It justifies the film’s length with aplomb, with the final shots sticking in the mind like shards of glass.

The Wailing is, to some extent, a film of two ideas. The central narrative thrust of Jong-goo and his daughter is one, a deeply felt story of personal responsibility and loss of control. The second is broader, more societal and existential. Jong-goo comes across three people who appear to live on the fringes of his compact village society. There is the traditional Korean shaman, who comes to exorcise Hyo-Jin of her demons. There is the Japanese man who lives in the hills, who becomes the prime suspect in the strange events that are unfolding in the town. And third, is a mysterious young woman who frequently appears to Jong-goo.

Each of these characters is mischievously and devilishly ambiguous for the vast majority of the running time, perhaps even to the point of frustration. When Hong-jin finally lays his cards on the table, the reveals initially seem baffling. But the success and satisfaction of these supporting characters comes in their thematic depth and puzzle-like nature, asking the audience to construct the truth from implication and subtlety.

What this gives the film is a beautifully empathetic look at Jong-goo, while also a touch of damnation. The complexity and opacity of these characters means that the frustration and confusion of Jong-goo is brought into sharp focus. He is a simple man with a simple desire: to protect his daughter. The existential forces at work mean nothing to him, and he believes he is dealing with the corporeal. His attempts to bully and chase and berate that which frightens and beguiles him only invites evil further into his family.

Then, once the narrative is looked at as a collective, his own arrogance and ignorance become clear. His forceful ways with the Japanese stranger, his unwitting trust in the Korean shaman, his distrust of the young woman. If Jong-goo had stopped to think and consider, he may not have made the same mistakes.

But how rational can we expect a father to be when his daughter’s life is on the line?

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The Wailing also has a spiritual conflict surrounding the film, one between the traditional Korean shaman, the Catholic church and the Japanese shaman. The film treats none of them particularly kindly. The Korean shaman comes out the nastiest of them all, a cold-blooded depiction of the meeting of fake culture and capitalism. The Catholic church are pragmatists to a fault, seemingly lacking any spiritual insight whatsoever. The film has a softer depiction of the Japanese shaman, as he loses his spiritual battle to the physical battle of the angry townspeople.

The battle of the spiritual and the physical is the crux of the film, asking us to not fear the dark but to confront it with intelligence and rigour. It asks us not to accept the kind face of every monster in the shadow, and not to spit on the monstrous face of the kind stranger in the hills. When we neglect this, when ignorance and fear overcome us, we bind ourselves to our fate. But how can anyone expect any different, when we are only human, with human fears and human prejudices?

So, let’s rewind. What’s in a title? What is The Wailing?

The Wailing is the sound of confusion and despair, of being small and human and alone. Of being so determined to protect those you love against something you can’t see and can’t comprehend. It’s a sound without much form, as we lash out against others in a desperate bid to be important, or forward thinking, or to try and stop our loved ones from being afraid. 

The Wailing, then, is a truly humanist horror film, using its characters to expose humanity’s insecurities and failings, while always understanding why they choose to act the way they do. The profound sadness that lies at its heart is one of empathy and the wish that people could see beyond themselves, even if just for a moment.

Baskin

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Baskin is a difficult movie to figure out, which at least makes it interesting. It’s not atypical for modern horror films to be frontloaded, with a focus on a meaty, fleshy plot hook. It’s also not atypical for this frontloading to leave the latter half often feeling lacking, aimless and insubstantial. 2015’s It Follows opened with a killer premise and taut first act, before slipping into purposelessness and borderline incomprehensibly.

But, like Baskin, it was interesting. That’s part of the appeal of modern arthouse horror. It’s often ambitions, favouring dramatic subversions and revisions of the genre. They’re often referential, but in sly, beguiling ways. Baskin’s initial slow burn calls to such disparate films as The Evil Dead, The Hills Have Eyes and The Blair Witch Project. The expectation is that the film could evolve into anything, that the eventual reveal could be a sophisticated chimera or something outre and capricious. While Baskin’s climax is unexpected, it’s unfortunately tedious and overall unimaginative.

Baskin starts off very well, and manages to carry on very well for more of its running time than not. A story of five police officers who stumble onto a sinister cult, director Can Evrenol draws from Italian horror maestros such as Fulci and Argento, with his roaming camera and potent use of hot contrasting colours. The film conjures a dreamlike, occasionally phantasmagorical atmosphere, punctuated by ephemeral vignettes. Evrenol’s editing favours blending rather than hard cuts, bleeding scenes together through cunning transitions.

Evrenol also favours Fulci’s approach to narrative, leaving the details illusive and instead focusing his attention to the foreboding atmosphere. The film is designed to be felt, to elicit a guttural emotional response. This is at its best in the film’s wide, often coated in shadowy negative space, with the main characters helplessly placed in the centre of the frame. The locations in the film feel placed in an abyss, lone specks of light flanked by endless maws of darkness.

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And yet, Evrenol chooses a simpler, blunter and duller approach in the climax, with his main characters strung up and variously tortured by a maniac. Baskin makes flailing indications towards Lovecraftian ideas of the Cosmos and the truth beyond, but it’s fundamentally underdeveloped. If the film wants us to believe that a grander universe exists beyond it, choosing to focus on the least involved aspect of it is deeply disappointing. The film’s violence isn’t even particularly creative, and the choice to sample Cannibal Holocaust’s iconic soundtrack simply reminds you how little horror film violence has progressed. And I’m sure the thunderingly dumb ending makes some sense to Evrenol, but it means absolutely nothing to me.

Which then begs the question: is Baskin’s opening hour genuinely engaging, or simply well made enough to distract from its inherent hollowness? The more I think it over, the more I think it’s both. There’s no denying the strengths of the films initial two acts, and I can almost pinpoint the very shot the film becomes dramatically less interesting. But what works about Baskin is its intoxicating creepiness, the sort of artistic horror ambience you don’t see too often. Simply languishing in the films initial style is satisfying and enjoyable, even with the knowledge it might not be leading anywhere.

Can that excuse the final third? No, not really. The biggest frustration with the climax isn’t the incomprehensibility – oneiric narratives have been arthouse fodder for decades – it’s just that it’s not particularly interesting. It’s superficially disturbing, but there’s nothing beneath the disgust. The ambuscade plot structure worked better in the less gruesome but more impactful Martyrs, released all the way back in 2008. Martyrs lined its story with pathos and anger, calling out both the torture porn subgenre and modern capitalist structures. Baskin has little to say of anything, which is fine while stumbling through a dreamlike haze, but the extreme violence becomes rote and dull.

And that is the tale of Baskin, and perhaps much modern niche horror. A well made film, creepy for a while, that falls apart when it substitutes true intensity for shock value. I’m hopeful of what Evrenol makes next. He’s clearly talented, with a host of good influences and an impressive handling of dark, suffocating ambience. Now he simply needs to make a film that capitalises on the tantalising promise of Baskin’s first sixty minutes, and discards the easy temptations of its final thirty.

Paranoia Agent

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I love Satoshi Kon.

I don’t generally enjoy beginning something like this with such unfiltered praise, but god damn. Satoshi Kon’s exceptional visual instinct and his ability to communicate with such breezy confidence makes every one of his works fascinating, dissectable and complex. And not complex in a knotted weave sort of way, but complex like an interlocking puzzle of edits and cinematography. Every cut in a Satoshi Kon work feels fresh, vivid and catenated.

But what’s truly sad about Satoshi Kon’s untimely passing at 46 is the distinct lack of a masterpiece. His thoughts and ideas feel rooted in a sense of reality but can only be fully expressed in the controlled medium of animation, where his blend of reality and faux-reality shows less seams. Yet, Kon’s plotting tends to be a touch too messy and indistinct, as opposed to his sublime direction which is almost always precise and mannered. With the exception of Perfect Blue, a relatively stripped down and direct story compared to his later works, his themes are often layered and intense but hazily told. It’s hard not to feel like Kon passed away a film too early.

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White God

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When I showed the trailer of White God to a friend of mine he remarked “So this is good? Like, actually good?” It would sound like a snarky, patronising question were it not for the subject matter, which is so audacious it risks silliness. White God escalates to a dog uprising on the streets of Budapest, with hundreds of dogs sprinting down city streets, dodging riot police and outpacing menacing dog catchers who wield animal snatchers like bayonets. It’s the sort of film that, 90 percent of the time, would seal a legacy only as a semi-ironic cult classic. It’s only with courage and controlled filmmaking that it manages to rise above its premise, becoming a creature of substantial pathos and allegorical bite.

White God tells the story of Hagan, a labrador mix, and his teenage owner Lili. Having been left out on the streets by Lili’s stressed and unforgiving father, Hagan enters an increasingly hostile and cruel human world that morphs his once calm and loving mien into something vicious, distrustful and angry. Meanwhile, Lili searches across the city for Hagan, a parallel story that sees her facing her own challenges on the Budapest streets.

The film is an interesting crossbreed. The easiest (and perhaps laziest) comparison would be to The Birds, but White God is more upfront with its allegorical intent. Hitchcock’s film was socially conservative, its messaging such an undercurrent to be almost be entirely disregarded by the taut suspense elements. Stephen King’s Cujo is a closer comparison, though that novel’s insular and Americentric nature doesn’t align too closely with the very European and very expansive commentary of White God. White God’s distinctly Eurocentric flavouring makes the films thematic morals about class systems and multiculturalism potent and timely.

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While less thoughtful direction and scripting might trip up over the idea of the dog as the literal underclass, the film’s immense sympathy for its canine star is compelling and always believable. The character of Hagan is emotive and expressive, his face changing from something soft and delicate to snarling and twisted, his lips curling around his face in a truly startling manner. Director Kornél Mundruczó and dog trainer Teresa Ann Miller’s work here is accomplished, particularly in the nuances, establishing an animal performance that exceeds all work done with dogs in the past. Hagan is not only a convincing canine, but a wholly convincing protagonist. Through his eyes, the thematic underpinnings of the film are given great heft and dimension, the obvious lack of dialogue becoming a key component to the film’s success. We’re presented with the pain and the degradation that the strays and the maligned are burdened, with the added complexity of their lack of voice with which to speak against it.

Meanwhile Lili, brilliantly played by Zsófia Psotta, brings a masked vulnerability to counteract Hagan’s aggressive transformation. While Hagan’s more showy role threatens to overwhelm her, the film separates the emotions of her story with enough distinction that the eventual culmination of both arcs feels earned and powerful. Lili is angst ridden, her veneer of cynicism covering for a building sadness. There’s a soft melancholy to her scenes that contrasts with the growing ferocity of Hagan, as Lili becomes more in tune with herself whilst Hagan is stripped down and brutalised until only the animal inside shows.

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This is the battle at the heart of White God. Hagan becomes a beast, while Lili becomes an adult. Hagan is forced to become a vicious dog fighter, while Lili improves at the trumpet. There is the recurring sound of the nationalistic Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 throughout. Lili learns it for an orchestra performance, while Hagan lives it vicariously through a Tom and Jerry cartoon left on at the disinterested dog pound. The privileged are indulging in their own cultural spectacle, while those beneath them are merely thrown scraps. The dogs are not seen as part of Hungary. They are seen only as outsiders and scavengers. They are the mongrels to be thrown away, to be beaten, to be used and then discarded. They are outsiders who may only glance at what others have and own. The powerful ending of the film implies that co-existence depends on the powerful abandoning their pretenses and valuing the humanity of others. But by this point, it may be too late. White God presents a great irony: those we care least about in society are often the ones we illicit the most control over.

With this, White God occupies a strange but increasingly necessary role in European cinema. The past decade has seen an emphasis on mighty and impressive pieces of naturalistic, socially aware European cinema, films that talk about the aspects of society often kept hidden and buried in countries still reeling from the Second World War and the holocaust. They tell starkly human tales about those who suffer when society is simply unaware of what to do with them, when all that may be needed is compassion and mutuality. White God is certainly a continuation of these ideas, but it certainly broaches them with more accessibility. This doesn’t make it a better or bolder film, and perhaps the inherently absurdist premise may prove to be a distraction, but it tackles these issues with less nihilism and pessimism than much of these films. It is a film that serves as both harsh political allegory and, when the dogs take to the streets, grand spectacle. Its socially aware ideas are vastly more simple than Beyond The Hills or The Turin Horse, but this allows them to be broader and more universal. It is populist in the best possible fashion.

So yes, White God is very good. It’s metaphor is earned and complex, it’s sincerity is far reaching and tangible. It’s as sad as it is angry, but it can also see change, however dim, off in the distance. It’s a film about dogs that speaks with remarkable fluency to humanity.

White God is currently on theatrical release in the UK through Metrodome Distribution. It is scheduled for a limited North American release on March 27th through Magnolia Pictures. 

Halloween Week! Dogtooth

Here be mild spoilers.

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Dogtooth is a comedy as black as pitch, opaque in its broader intentions but commanding in its aesthetic and mood. It’s a film about the demands of parents upon their children, a warped examination of the influence they exude and how their worldview can supersede reality. In that sense, it’s genuinely frightening, haunting and bleak, bursts of humour coming through only in how outrageously bizarre the film allows itself to be.

The film takes place on an unknown family estate in Greece, where two parents keep their three adult children in complete isolation, ensuring their alienation from society. They build up a myth of the outside world, one they appear to have presented to their children since birth. They say that it’s ever dangerous and the only safe travel is by car. They replace words in their children’s vocabulary with nonsense, tell them of the evils of the most dangerous animal ‘the cat’ and the only entertainment they are shown are worn VHS tapes of home videos, which the children can repeat in their entirety. The brother is serviced sexually by a security guard from his father’s company. The children never come across as stupid or stunted, but confused and lost, with an ignorance so pure it’s uncanny.

There is little back story given to the motivations behind the children’s imprisonment. The father leaves everyday to work at a factory, seeming to have no issue in living and working outside the home. His children spend most of their time playing games that revolve around self-harm, such as scalding themselves with hot water or purposely running out of breath in the swimming pool. The isolation the children are subjected to has not stopped them from playing like kids, but their playfulness is damaging, escalating to a scene reminiscent of Douglas Buck’s shock horror short Cutting Moments. There is a constant sense of aesthetic detachment in the cinematography, always observing from a distance, its palette washed out creams and soft, muted greys. Even the Greek countryside feels tepidly, mournfully out of reach, ensuring the tone is claustrophobic and the horrors inescapable.

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As of the violence and sex (which progressively becomes less consensual and more incestuous as the film goes on) become more entwined with the plot, the children never their inherent innocence. This contrast of graphic imagery with the plainness of the home and the giggling of the adult children is incredibly disconcerting. What begins as a film of weirdness, provoking nervous laughter, grows into a film of true horror and shock. The final moments are comparable to Pasolini’s Salo, though with less of an emphasis on outright revulsion.

But much like Salo, there appears to be a more complex allegory working beneath the surface. With Salo it was facism and with Dogtooth it appears be the idea of the parents denying their children human interaction, to keep them sated and soft. That may not be a conclusive reading, as the film also holds ideas of familial patriarchy and the influence of popular culture, but regardless of interpretation there is a nuance and depth to the film that makes it valuable and interesting. Perhaps too outre for some, Dogtooth is a horror film with a bite that at first only tickles with morbid suggestion, before finally clamping down and puncturing.

Dogtooth is available in North America on DVD, blu-ray and Instant Video from Kino International and in the UK on DVD and blu-ray from Verve Pictures.  

Halloween Week is a small, self-imposed experiment to write a solid horror film review that comes in at under 550 words every night until Halloween. These short form pieces will not be the norm as my verbosity is stronger than my self-restraint. Most of these will be lesser known horror films that might not be great, but sure are interesting. I hope you enjoy! 

Halloween Week! Lake Mungo

Halloween Week is a small, self-imposed experiment to write a solid horror film review that comes in at under 550 words every night until Halloween. These short form pieces will not be the norm as my verbosity is stronger than my self-restraint. Most of these will be lesser known horror films that might not be great, but sure are interesting. I hope you enjoy! 

Here be mild spoilers.

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The failure of many faux-documentary horror films is their desire to be taken as seriously and factually as possible. But horror as a genre relies on a certain lack of seriousness, a certain desire to play to more elaborate and operatic thematic elements and using visual language that is steeped in extremes. Thus, it is Lake Mungo’s success that it uses the faux documentary format to close in not on realism, but on intimacy and the subtle grace notes of a family in crisis.

Lake Mungo’s documentary aesthetic is built around the drowning of a teenager known as Alice Palmer and her apparent resurrection. The film focuses on interviews with her family and her friends, discussing her life and the events that took place after her death, in which images of Alice appear in photographs and videos the family take within their home and at the lake in which she drowned. The use of a documentary is effective in exposing the inner mechanics of the family, as they speak openly and honestly about their daughter and the revelations made after her death. The acting is mostly low-key but convinces and the script allows the character’s feelings enough time to gestate and float out in the interviews. Lake Mungo has issues with structure (it’s unclear when the documentary started shooting, with interviews playing out after key scenes that appear to have been filmed by the documentarians) but the interview sections are often engrossing.

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Indeed, Lake Mungo’s most lasting appeal is in the way the family grieves and copes with the death of their daughter. The ghost story is often creepy and has one excellent scare towards the end, but what holds the film in the brain is the tale told about family dynamics, a young girl who felt alone in the world and her everlasting presence once she’s left it. By the end of the film, the family appears tired and decides to just accept whatever closure given. Meanwhile, Alice’s trace lingers on, a disembodied face buried in the corner of photographs.

The twist part way through the film appears to be isolating the domestic drama with much more intent than it actually carries through on. It’s disappointing that the story chooses to revert back to that of more traditional horror tropes. These horror elements are greatly enjoyable, with the one  jump scare in the film chosen well and hugely effective, but the film’s sway back to a more rote direction leaves the human elements feeling less sincere and less interesting. They become another plot twist to throw the audience off.

Nevertheless, Lake Mungo is a creepy and well crafted horror film, with a decent and appealing flow of poignancy. It never convinces as an actual documentary – there’s an absolute lack of filmmaker presence aside from questions during interviews, and the film nods far too firmly towards Twin Peaks within the premise alone – but there’s enough here that’s refreshing and intelligent to make it a worthwhile genre fill.

Lake Mungo is available on DVD and Instant Video in North America from Lions Gate Entertainment and on DVD and Instant Video in the UK from Second Sight Studios.