140 words: Lake Mungo

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Lake Mungo is not just another Australian found footage horror movie.

Alice, 16, disappears while swimming in a local dam. When her body turns up, her family begin their grieving process but discover something sinister lurking in Alice’s past.

Lake Mungo is an amazingly unsettling movie. The slow pacing and the use of grainy digital recordings and photos (we become the detectives) gets increasingly uncomfortable to watch. The compelling twists ground Lake Mungo in reality despite it being a supernatural tragedy, making it entirely believable and more scary. And yes, this movie is genuinely scary. The acting is second to none, with tour de force performances from Alice’s parents, and the Kubrickian camerawork/shot choices and editing style/transitions make it a visual feast for the smart horror fans out there.

Lake Mungo was absolutely excellent. Thanks to The IPC for the recommendation!

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The Tunnel

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I thought I’d seen the last well-made found footage movie when I watched The Bay. The found footage aesthetic has been exhausted by hack horror film makers since The Blair Witch Project. That’s why I was so surprised when The Tunnel, a 2011 found footage movie from Australia, almost hit the same heights.

In 2007, the Australian government planned to tap into the disused rail tunnels below Sydney and utilise the water contained within. Vast lakes containing millions of gallons of water could be farmed and go some stretch to relieve the city, which was undergoing a huge water shortage. When this plan was scrapped within a year, a journalist sought the answers as to why.

Newsreels and interviews begin to tell the story, and instead of trying to establish characters for 30 minutes, the filmmakers throw us straight into the plot. Concise, pacey storytelling works much better in found footage movies; it’s harder to suspend disbelief if the characters are the filmmakers with the cameras. We are more likely to question character motives and plot nuances if we are supposed to believe the story is true. The Tunnel moves so fast it’s almost impossible to think about what is happening. Once the film crew go down into the tunnels, the filmmaker inside me let out a little cheer when they made a point of showing the sound man recording room tone, something any respected film crew would have to do.

It wouldn’t be a found footage movie without its fair share of jump scares, which we have discussed as being a cheap horror tactic, but the third act makes up for this. The tension and atmosphere is so overwhelming it becomes pleasantly uncomfortable. The darkness of the tunnels and a reliance on their equipment to provide light really got me on board with the characters. I initially thought the female lead was monotonous, but that was established as a result of the what happened in the tunnels and we see her true personality come out in the second and third acts.

The payoff in found footage films is never as satisfying as a conventional narrative but The Tunnel has quite an exciting ramp into the end. Despite the script being slightly clunky at times, overall the screenplay was engaging, which resulted in a found footage film that was never a chore or boring to watch.

Overall, The Tunnel is one of the better entries into the sub genre of found footage horror. It didn’t hit the heights of The Bay, however I’d consider it a success.

The Bay

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What would happen if one of the two things essential for human survival did just the opposite? This question is one of many posed in The Bay, a refreshing take on the somewhat dead tired ‘found footage’ horror sub-genre.

A small town in Maryland, US, becomes the epicentre of a mysterious bio-outbreak originating from a bay, which happens to be not only the town’s dumping ground, but also its main source of water.

First-and-foremost the thing that impressed me most about The Bay was the innovative ways the screenwriter and director delivered us the supposedly found footage. We don’t get one guy/girl running around with a digital camera the whole time, which gets extremely tiresome. Instead we see shots from a variety of CCTV cameras on streets and in buildings, webcams, dashcams, phones, cameras, websites, news reports and conference calls. All this was enough to be visually engaging, as well as a great tool to drive narrative and add to suspense. On no occasion was my disbelief unsuspended, which, in horror especially, is essential.

Much like Contagion, the horror comes from the fear of fear itself, and while there are a few creepy set pieces in the final two acts, and some pretty gory shots, the film never resorts to cheap jump-scares. The story is driven along by a survivor of the incident who narrates throughout. I found this a bit irritating at first, but I was soon so engaged in the film that I was on board regardless. One aspect I appreciated was the lack of misogyny or degradation of women that is often found in horror these days. There were no bare breasts for titilation or a psychopath going around with a camera murdering helpless women, and for that I commend the filmmakers.

Overall, I found The Bay a rip-roaring, clever take on the found footage genre, and while it gets a little expositiony at times, I think that comes with the territory.