Studio: Anchor Bay Films
Director: David Jung
Writer: David Jung, Tedi Sarafian
Producer: Paul Brooks, David Jung
Stars: Shane Johnson, Julie McNiven, Jed Rees, Ella Anderson, Cara Pifko, Cullen Douglas, Freda Foh Shen, Patricia Healey, Dale Dickey, Tomas Arana
A faithless man’s experiment to disprove the existence of the supernatural opens an unexpected doorway to demonic evil.
Michael King’s homemade documentary about his idyllic family life takes a 180-degree turn when his wife Samantha is tragically killed during an afternoon picnic. Fueled by grief, Michael decides to instead capture an absence of proof that magic spells, supernatural phenomena, and spiritual beliefs are no more than pacifying hogwash for mindless masses. With himself cast as lead lab rat, the snickering skeptic takes his camera to a demonologist, a necromancer, and an assortment of psychic mediums during what he assumes will be a fruitless quest to summon an evil entity. Of course, with this being a horror movie, Michael ultimately finds exactly what he sets out to uncover: a head-spinning ordeal that puts Michael King in the same unenviable company as Emily Rose and Regan MacNeil.
A family tragedy causes an already faithless man to curse God. A devilish demon uses the gateway to overtake a corporeal form. And pleas for an exorcism fall on deaf ears as a sad soul succumbs to psychological torment on a spiral slide descent into insanity. You might think you’ve seen this movie countless times before. And while that may be true to the extent that any similar story treads into territory involving pained contortions and multi-voiced screaming, “The Possession of Michael King” is a smarter, more sinister take on a demonic possession tale.
“Michael King” doesn’t go all the way, but its idea does scratch deeper than the usual God versus The Devil or good versus evil baseline. Following his wife’s demise, Michael delivers a poignant monologue about the worth of antiquated religious notions given a 21st century mindset. It’s thoughtful, introspective, and a moderately more meaningful motivation behind Michael’s ill-advised coping mechanism than a simple finger under the chin snub in Heaven’s direction.
The first 30 minutes pack in solid fright film entertainment. Themes are thick with dark occult imagery and psychotropic-infused rituals of demon summoning rife not only with jump scares and expected video distortion tricks, but effectively eerie tingles of lingering evil and creeping dread. Many of these moments are tense, tight, and suitably scary.
“The Possession of Michael King” is primarily lead actor Shane Johnson’s movie to win or lose. Johnson naturally has the most screen time, carrying much of it by his lonesome as Michael speaks into the lens while becoming increasingly agitated, tortured, and overcome. It is a role that calls for more than its fair share of gape-mouthed roars, black-eyed stares, and twisted body positions. Yet complaining that a possessed person exhibits too many Friedkin-esque stereotypes would be like complaining that a vampire spends too much time biting necks and drinking blood.
As much as Johnson fits his character, the supporting cast lends a more than able helping hand. Familiar face Dale Dickey takes a brief appearance as a charlatan psychic that could have been a throwaway role and turns it into a tightly wound moment between she and Johnson. Tobias Jelinek as a Satanist-turned-priest and Cullen Douglas as a necromancy-practicing mortician do the same with characters that could have been over-the-top caricatures and play them with an understatement that feels both real and unsettling. This is as much of a testament to the actors’ abilities as it is to first-time feature director David Jung’s ability to tune everyone into an identical frequency slotting smoothly into his movie’s moody atmosphere.
Only a coin toss could call if the film’s employment of “found footage” is a pro or a con. Before grunting a sigh and passing the film off as “just another” first-person clone, know that “The Possession of Michael King” by design comes across very much unlike traditional “found footage.” The documentary aspect gives it a veneer of realism, but Jung deliberately fudges the format in ways that make the conceit go often unnoticed. The camera jumps positions and makes on-the-fly edits in unnatural ways, although it never feels like it even matters that the film is cheating, allowing the format to fade from conscious thought.
On one hand, it may be smart for Jung to dispense with worrying about lens placement and camera movement altogether while focusing instead on story and drama. On the other, corner-mounted wide shots merely document action without providing any immersive punch the movie might have achieved with a more dynamic and creative technical flow. The whole frame seems like a wash.
The last 45 minutes has its work cut out for it in meeting the level of the first 30. The script loses a burst of steam and stalls into a predictable pattern of green-tinted night vision shots and frequent scenes of Michael writhing, growling, and otherwise acting enraged as his demon takes over. The formula risks taking the latter half of the movie into the ground head first, but at only 75-ish minutes in total, “The Possession of Michael King” keeps its pace lively enough that the chills evoked in the opening smooth out the bumps down the back slope. No one will be throwing copies of “The Exorcist” into the trashcan anytime soon, but “Michael King” has enough spark to make it worthwhile as a demonic possession movie and impressive as a debut feature from a fledgling filmmaker.
Review Score: 70