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Dustin Putman

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The Possession of Michael King  (2014)
2 Stars
Directed by David Jung.
Cast: Shane Johnson, Ella Anderson, Cara Pifko, Julie McNiven, Dale Dickey, Tomas Arana, Patricia Healy, Luke Baines, Cullen Douglas, Anna Mountford, Tobias Jelinek, Stewart Skelton.
2014 – 83 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for disturbing and violent content, language, some drug use and sexual material).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 25, 2014.
Not every modestly budgeted horror film calls for a found-footage aesthetic, but one would assume otherwise from the evidence provided over the last several years. Yes, it is a way to financially cut corners, and yes, when done smartly and seamlessly an on-the-fly pseudo-documentary can bring an immersive cinema vérité ambience to storytelling, but is it the right choice all the time? Furthermore, when artifice sneaks into the illusion—the addition of a music score, for example, or nonsensical camera angles that betray the initial concept—it only serves to demonstrate why a conventionally filmed narrative might have been wiser. "The Possession of Michael King" is one such betrayer of the format, guilty of both of the above issues, but David Jung's writing-directing debut is not ineffective. When a premise is juicy enough and the accompanying script is good enough, it can go a long way in smoothing over certain irksome deficiencies. For that matter, so can a host of legitimately earned scares.

Los Angeles-based documentarian Michael King (Shane Johnson) is left devastated and adrift over the untimely death of beloved wife Samantha (Cara Pifko). A lifelong atheist who suddenly has a reason to search for a higher power, Michael decides to start a video journal depicting his journey to prove, once and for all, the existence of the supernatural and an afterlife. He doesn't believe he will experience anything, but as he continues to taunt otherworldly forces, dipping into the blackest of black magic and attempting to summon an entity with a married pair of demonologists, something finally does come through. Stricken with a nasty case of insomnia and haunted by visions that may not be hallucinations at all, Michael's mounting mental break puts himself, helpful younger sister Beth (Julie McNiven) and daughter Ellie (Ella Anderson) in imminent danger.

The greatest lingering achievement of "The Possession of Michael King" is director David Jung's ability to conjure an unholy, dangerously spectral mood, one that convinces as more than just a fictional creation of special effects and camera trickery. Emotionally gloomy but never dreary, the film's pall of portent builds throughout, prompting a series of freakily malevolent set-pieces, one involving a strobe-lit therapy session and others involving an injured bird and a camera feed with a mind of its own. As the third act shifts into high gear, however, so do the implausible stylistic breaks. Suddenly, scenes are shot from an overabundance of static indoor surveillance cameras that are neither believable nor feasible, and the use of a composed score breaks the aura of authentic immediacy. In the way the film prompts an exploration of religion and unexplained phenomena through the lens of a man facing a very real tragedy in his life, "The Possession of Michael King" demands attention. It also would have been far superior had it not been so beholden to its unnecessary found-footage conceit.
© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman