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From its demonic possession storyline to its found-footage format, The Possession of Michael King is nothing horror film aficionados haven’t seen before ad nauseam. But despite its overwhelmingly stale air of familiarity, this debut feature by David Jung manages to impress thanks to its technical expertise and the compelling performance by Shane Johnson in the title role. Being given a token theatrical release just days before its DVD debut, the film signals bigger things to come for its tyro filmmaker if he can manage to mine more original territory.
Jung, working from a story co-devised with Tedi Sarafian, finds a convenient excuse for the tired stylistic format — please, no more! — by making his central character a, you guessed it, documentary filmmaker. Unfortunately, Michael King’s plan to make a heartwarming film about his happy family life is derailed when his wife is suddenly killed in an accident.
Blaming the tarot card reader (Dale Dickey of Winter’s Bone, providing an indelible cameo) his wife was seeing for placing her in the circumstances that led to her death, avowed atheist Michael instead decides to make his film about the search for the supernatural with himself as the main guinea pig. Outfitting himself with a variety of tiny cameras and enlisting the services of a friend as an extra cameraman, he seeks out practitioners of the occult, including demonologists and mediums, and invites them to perform their dark magic on him, assuming that the resultant failure will confirm his beliefs.
But there wouldn’t be much of a horror film if that were to happen, so predictably Michael soon finds himself, as the title would suggest, possessed by a dark force that makes him increasingly unhinged and a danger to himself and his those around him, especially his young daughter (Ella Anderson).
The director-screenwriter does manage to invest the familiar proceedings with some quirky, original touches, such as Michael’s purchasing a “demon summoning kit” online, ingesting psychotropic drugs and finding ants crawling all over his body. There are also numerous intriguing characters on display, including a necromancer mortician played with delicious relish by Cullen Douglas.
The found-footage format is as tiresome as ever, with the profusion of shots taken from every conceivable viewpoint defying all logic. But it does offer the opportunity for Johnson to showcase his acting chops in a series of increasingly disturbing direct addresses to the camera, including a harrowing self-mutilation scene.
The violent ending is a direct crib from that gold standard of the genre, The Exorcist, in a miscalculation that seems to unnecessarily invite unflattering comparisons.
Production: Gold Circle Entertainment, Quickfire Films
Cast: Shane Johnson, Ella Anderson, Cara Pifko, Dale Dickey, Julie McNiven, Tomas Arana
Director-screenwriter: David Jung
Producers: Paul Brooks, David Jung
Executive producers: Scott Niemeyer, Guy A. Danella
Director of photography: Phil Parmet
Editor: Jake York
Production designer: Gabor Norman
Costume designer: Francine Lecoultre
Rated R, 83 min.
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