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Movie review: ‘The Possession of Michael King’

The Possession of Michael King

* * 

Director: David Jung

Cast: Shane Johnson, Ella Anderson, Dale Dickey, Cullen Douglas

Rated: R (disturbing and violent content, language, some drug use and sexual material)

Running time: 83 min.

Posted 4:32pm on Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014

As “found footage” horror movies go, The Possession of Michael King is more unpleasant than scary.

The self-inflicted wounds, menace to innocents and general supernatural mayhem is nothing we haven’t seen before – the old “body yanked out of the frame” trick, etc. You see where it’s going and which films it is leaning on for inspiration. But some folks dig this eyes-averting gore thing, so here goes.

The title character, played by Shane Johnson, wanted to make a little home movie about his happy family. Then his wife died in an accident and Michael King decided to go after people who comfort those who have suffered a loss.

They would be priests, tarot card readers, psychics and dabblers in necromancy. He posts an ad, offering a reward for such people to “prove it.” And some take the bait.

He blames his late wife’s tarot card reader (Dale Dickey) for convincing her not to take the trip that might have changed her fate. He dabbles in LSD-boosted black magic with an enterprising couple of “demonologists.” And he taunts the religious.

“God or the Devil, if you’re out there, prove it! Come and get me!”

The dying young priest (Tobias Jelinek), chain-smoking to the end, warns him he’s playing with fire. Call the Devil’s name, he hints, and “the Devil will never let you go.”

And sure enough, the necromancer-mortician (Cullen Douglas) puts Michael through a ritual that has him hearing voices, seeing things and makes his cameras and his camera man freak out.

Meanwhile, Michael has a daughter (Ella Anderson) whom he is utterly neglecting and creeping out with all this nonsense. By the time he is possessed, sneaking into her room growling in the middle of the night, nuts but still – apparently – videotaping his actions, he’s beyond the help of the psychotherapist he seeks help from, or of anything apriest can offer.

Filmmaker David Jung trots out the familiar tricks of the found-footage trade, extreme close-ups, night-vision footage, creepy, shrieking music welling up on the soundtrack.

None of which does much as far as frights go.

Johnson makes a compelling skeptic, and landing the formidable Dickey ( Winter’s Bone) was a coup.

The effects are on-the-money, never more than when Michael, having carved a pentagram on his chest and realizing what he’s done, tries to self-administer an exorcism. A ceiling camera captures the book he’s chanting from bursting into flame.

But what they were shooting for here was skeptic-is-converted tale, a Last Exorcism in which a doubter is freaked out by the reality of much of what he’d doubted. That comes across, but the message feels muted – broken up by the demands of that “found footage” format.

We’re constantly wondering, “Who is supposed to be the camera operator, here?” and “If he’s possessed and crazy, why he is taking the camera up stairs while he stalks his kid or his sister?”

Yes, glitchy footage that looks like it came from a cell-phone or security camera is still a great shortcut to “this must be real.” But the format is confining, and leaning on this for a horror story is totally played out. Fifteen years past its Blair Witch expiration date, Michael King proves it’s time to repossess found footage.

Exclusive: AMC Mesquite

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