You can’t fling a dead crow in a Best Buy these days without hitting some type of “found footage” possession movie, ever since the overnight success of Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity, and while most of these low-budget wannabes fail miserably in replicating true paranormal horror, a select few shining examples make all the underwhelming watches worthwhile. Well, OK, almost worthwhile – have you ever seen Paranormal Entity for the love of Pete?!
David Jung’s The Possession Of Michael King happens to be one of those under-the-radar examples of truly unnerving demonic horror, mixing ample doses of religious slighting and Satanic ball-busting in a way that actually becomes horrific instead of brutishly fratty. I found myself very involved in the story of Michael King (played by Shane Johnson), an unfortunate man who embarks on an ill-advised journey to prove that there are no greater powers above, below, or around us. After losing his wife, who was killed while following advice from a psychic, Michael plans to invite a plethora of demons into his life solely to prove the nonexistence. Since we’re talking about a horror movie, you can assume Michael finds answers he never wanted to, bringing to light new evidence that silences doubters of religion – threatening the lives of everyone around him.
While “found footage” movies have been beaten into the ground, Jung crafts a story with an assertive confidence and intriguing focus on proving life beyond our Earthly mortalities. We’ve seen possession stories over and over again, and God’s interactions with humanity have been questioned before throughout cinema, but Jung has an ample amount of fun guiding Michael through his own unique exploration of the unknown. I’ll admit, when I first saw Michael unboxing all the demon summoning equipment, I briefly scoffed, because horror characters toying with dark forces will always stand as my most frustrating horror faux pas, but Michael King’s situation is charged with emotionality. Intertwined with personal anguish, King makes a rash decision based of off the death of his significant other, and he doesn’t unwillingly challenge Satan for kicks, but instead tempts fate without any real regard for his own existence. The Possession Of Michael King avoids being “generic” and repetitive simply by staying fresh but focused, tweaking past paranormal stories for a vastly unique experience.
Such an engaging example of horror wouldn’t have been possible without a tremendous turn from the actor behind Michael King, and Shane Johnson does a phenomenal job as Jung’s tortured main character. As mentioned, some of these stereotypical horror characters bring about their own demises by stupidly calling out demonic forces for some half-baked reason, and these types of movies always end up being more laughable than terrifying, but Johnson’s possessed state becomes a fulfilling and invested transformation from start to finish. There are visible layers to Michael King, ranging from jaded skeptic to loving father, as Johnson blends paternal instincts with this skewed vision of reality that’s slowly eating away his inner emotions. Then you introduce the aspect of Michael harboring an actual demon, something I’m assuming Johnson doesn’t have much real life experience on, and Michael’s struggles reach a twisted new level. Johnson is able to remain human and engaging during his entire journey, capturing a true mental deterioration while also striking some extremely gripping horror highs that include many exorcism staples and throwbacks to possession films of yesteryear. Acting is so important in a horror movie, and luckily for Jung, he found himself the perfect leading man in Shane Johnson.
You can tell early on if a horror movie will be able to hack it atmospherically, and while a few jump scares do start off on a rocky road to redundancy, Jung again impresses with his first ever feature film. Michael’s Satanic trip is loaded with your typical “found footage” scare material, but there’s an equal balance of true uncontrollable terror that heightens pop-up jolts by offering substantially hair-raising storyboarding. There are moments that feel like the demon is manipulating our own minds by invading Michael’s camera feed, as we’re constantly picking up on little references that might be hiding in the background or flickering through snowy recording static. Jung impresses beyond his experience, showing an understanding of tension, uncertainty, and spooktacular filmmaking that I’ve seen mainstream horror movies fail miserably at, showing up experienced horror franchises including Paranormal Activity (Paranormal Activity 4 is an absolute waste). We’re not only scared by violence and demons, but an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness at the hands of Satan’s evil tricks, and the henchmen he sends to do his dirty work.
The Possession Of Michael King has easily become the biggest horror surprise of 2014 to date for this film critic, as I expected nothing but another cheap-o paranormal paradox without any wit or skillful construction – something I’ll gladly be wrong about. Thanks to a phenomenal turn from Shane Johnson as Michael King and an intelligent, mindful vision from writer/director David Jung, you’ll be screaming instead of yawning through another story about demonic possession, broken families and necromantic rituals in graveyards. Michael King instigates every minute of bone-chilling terror himself, searching for answers in ominous places, but after being consumed by grief, we can understand his exploration on an instinctual level. So many similar movies attempt the same formula, but Jung shows that despite a few blemishes here and there, hearty storytelling can elevate a project from being “just another horror movie” to showing the grace of a far more experienced creator.
The Possession Of Michael King is a surprisingly enjoyable "Possession Movies With People's Names In The Title" genre entry that has me super excited to see what writer/director David Jung will do next.