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Possession of Michael King, The (2014)

The Possession of Michael King (2014)Starring Shane Johnson, Ella Anderson, Cara Pifko

Directed by David Jung


The first thing that stood out to me about David Jung’s The Possession of Michael King was its title. The tendency to use some variation of the “The X of Y” titling scheme, wherein X equals an unfortunate supernatural occurrence and Y equals the generic name of the protagonist, has become seemingly more prevalent in recent memory. Or at least it feels that way. Now, it is admittedly unfair to say this, but with that naming scheme comes a tendency to associate the film, sight unseen, with low-budget direct-to-DVD dreck. I will freely admit this is unfair to the film and those involved, but I have yet to be proven wrong. Still, I always hope for the best, so I try to go in with an open mind and view the film objectively.

Preconceived notions aside, I was intrigued solely by the film’s found footage premise, for which I am an obvious mark. Told in a patchwork found footage-cum-documentary format, the film opens with a home video of Michael King (Shane Johnson), a loving father to Ellie (Ella Anderson), husband to Sam (Cara Pifko), and devout atheist, as they have a picnic in the park. It ends abruptly, the implication being that a routine trip to put change in the meter resulted in Sam’s death. Six months later, Michael is beginning the process of filming a documentary to try and prove that the supernatural is not real. After consulting with a demonologist and necromancer, both of which perform rituals that seemingly allow a demon to enter his body. As is customary, strange things begin to occur, and no matter how much he tries to rationalize it, it becomes evident that something has possessed Michael King.

Almost immediately the found footage conceit wears thin. Lifting the multi-camera setup from the latter Paranormal Activity films, we’re given a look at the entirety of the house as Michael seeks to prove that the supernatural isn’t real. At first he has his friend Jordan follow him around with the camera for the purposes of the documentary, but after his interactions with the demonologist and necromancer, camera duties are left to Michael. As a result, he carries it around with him wherever he goes, resulting in a number of highly illogical moments that just happen to capture everything. How convenient.

It’s a nuisance, but more than anything its representative of a bigger problem associated with found footage films. It’s easy to dismiss the format as a cheap means of making a genre film, and that’s fine. It comes with the territory, and it should be expected. But all too often the format is forced into the narrative, resulting in what amounts to little more than random scare tactics strung together to form a loose story. Furthermore, even when alerting the audience to the “why” of filming everything, suspension of disbelief becomes critical to enjoying the film. The biggest problem with this is that after a certain point, it just wears thin. Why, when in the throes of possession, does Michael still carry the camera? It can be argued away for the sake of the narrative, but to me it’s just laziness and one-off attempts at doing something scary. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and for the bulk of this film, the latter prevails.

There is an interesting film buried in The Possession of Michael King, but much of it is lost amidst the cheap scares and found footage tropes that plague it. From the outset it’s clear that Michael is a fairly arrogant individual; he blames a psychic for the death of his wife, and even when experiencing the events first hand, attempts to rationalize them in a way that fits his worldview. Obviously he quickly capitulates, but through it all there is a missed attempt to ruminate on the nature of grief, of loss, and the arrogance of belief (or lack thereof). Instead we get a mostly rote and generic thriller that hits the beats of found footage to which we’ve all become accustomed.

1 1/2 out of 5

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Jon Condit