Coping with the loss of a loved one is a difficult undertaking. Some retreat into a shell of sorts. Some turn to drugs or alcohol to mask the pain. Michael King does none of these. Instead, he chooses to face off with what he believes is the cause of his wife’s death — charlatan soothsayers. Convinced that had she not followed the advice of a psychic she’d still be alive, Michael (Shane Johnson) sets out to document once and for all that spirituality — the existence of God and the Devil — is a sham used to prey on the weak and unsuspecting.
The result is The Possession of Michael King, a relatively tense, found footage horror thriller from first time writer and director David Jung. Relatively because the film doesn’t add any new elements to the found footage fad not already dreamed up by “Paranormal Activity” or one of its siblings and, as the title suggests, there is a possession so we know what to expect at some point.
How we get to his inevitable possession, however, provides for some interesting encounters in locations other than Michael’s heavily video camera’ed house. Armed with a cameraman (Michael is, incidentally, a documentary filmmaker) he sets out to debunk. He interviews an excommunicated priest (Tobias Jelinek), talks to a psychiatrist (Freda Foh Shen) and attends a reading by a medium (Anna Mountford). All mundane stuff until a mortician turned necromancer (Cullen Douglas) opens Michael up to be possessed by a recently deceased in a graveyard in the dead of night and a demonologist couple (Tomas Arana and Patricia Healy) open Michael up to be possessed by the demon Hanngore in their dank basement after the consumption of LSD spiked Kool-Aid.
Someone triggers something during the dimly lit, night visioned, shaky cam cliché-addled proceedings because soon voices in his head start whispering. Of course no one is interested in helping undo what Michael believes didn’t happen though and so his slow, methodical descent into madness goes on unfettered putting at risk himself and his daughter Ellie (Ella Anderson).
All eyes are on Shane Johnson as The Possession of Michael King is basically his one man show to showcase his talents. For a mostly untested actor with a steady diet of bit parts in television series and a role as himself in the movie “Hot Guys with Guns,” Johnson does surprisingly well. Early on he effectively blends despair for the loss of his wife and mother to his daughter with indeterminate anger; later in the film he delivers as a man straddling the divide between the sane and the criminally insane. A decent job by the makeup department in making Michael appear progressively sallow aids in his regression.
Not so helpful, is the manner in which the movie is shot. More often than not the employment of handhelds and security footage is a distraction and when coupled with lighting schemes intended to disorient or obfuscate what’s around the corner from the audience it is a downright detriment. Several key scenes find their scares dampened because of this. Others — even when the setup is framed properly by Jung and cinematographer Phil Parmet — find their chills dulled when audio cues alert a jump scare is near. It’s a rookie mistake that hopefully Jung rectifies.
While certainly nothing new, The Possession of Michael King doesn’t feel old. Jung keeps the pace moving at a good clip and Shane Johnson more than carries his share of the load. A load, mind you, that even resorts to the most overused staple in horror today: Body contorting.