The Possession of Michael King. Hmm. Like a lot of movies with the words “haunting of” or “possession of” or “exorcism of” in the title, you pretty much know all there is to know going into this one. The names are different, and the details of the haunting/possession are different, but a lot of the rest of it is the same.
Michael King is a documentary filmmaker. We learn in the first few minutes that his wife died, apparently as a result of a bad tip from a psychic. So Michael is out to make a documentary which will prove that the supernatural, in all its forms, is baloney.
So right out of the gate I dislike Michael.
“I want to test the most authentic spells, rituals, and summonings that I can find,” Michael tells us, speaking directly to the camera. (He doesn’t bother to explain what he means by “authentic.”)
He’s just so arrogant. “I’m the testing ground. Me. Michael King.” You ass.
So what ol’ Mikey does is, he puts an ad online someplace, gets a bunch of replies from people in the know about supernatural whatsits, and then he heads himself on down to his local devil-worshipers’ place for some, er, devil-worshipin’. They do a sexy demon-summoning bit, and like invite this demon to possess Michael or whatever. It’s cool man, we’re all adults. Then Michael’s off to a freaky mortician, who is also (of course) a necromancer. That dude does some thing where he sews human teeth into Michael’s flesh, because what ELSE are you gonna do with human teeth? Then he takes Michael to a graveyard and they summon the soul of a recently departed dead guy to, you guessed it, possess Michael King. The title’s starting to make sense now, huh? *NUDGE*
These opening sequences, silly as they are, are actually the parts I liked the best. They’re novel, at least. And with the main character as an inveterate skeptic, and nearly everyone else trying to convince him that this shit is real, it’s at least a departure from the nobody-believes-me-but-there’s-definitely-a-ghost-in-our-new-wardrobe/iPhone/bidet formula. The rest of the film–about two-thirds of it–are utterly generic possession-movie swill. They’re starting to bleed together in my brain: The Possession and The Possession of Michael King and The Last Exorcism and The Exorcism of Emily Rose… good or bad, they’re all mimicking each other to some extent, and with varying degrees of success.
Oh, it’s also a mockumentary/found-footage film. Sooooo. Mm. Huh.
There’s also an issue, at least for me, with believability. As ever, it’s not the supernatural aspects of the film that I find difficult to believe: it’s the muddled “real-life” facts, the lazy outs that filmmakers are always too eager to to take. For instance, I doubt a professional mortician would ever be willing to be filmed performing necromancy in his own funeral home. Just doesn’t make good business sense. And when the mortician takes Michael to the graveyard to continue the rite, they’re forced to run from the cops. Isn’t this a contradiction? There’s a film with you ripping teeth out of a corpse and sewing them into a living guy’s flesh, and giving the same guy powerful hallucinogens, and then defiling a grave. Running from the cops seems like you’re just postponing the inevitable. And it’s all just unbelievable.
Then again, as Michael points out, it is LA.
The characters are superficial and one-dimensional. The believers are, initially, silly, laughable, grotesque, over-the-top (but ultimately right, except the demon-worshipers, I guess, who say it’s just a game?); the skeptic hero is hard-nosed to the point of stupidity (okay, okay, fine, we’ll say there’s no devil–but you just sewed human teeth into your own flesh). There’s no subtlety, no nuance. Everyone is a caricature of themselves. And the damned loud-noise jump-scares. That’s the cheapest way to get an audience to react, guys. Really, stop.
The real problem is that the Wanfluence is strong with this one. Like many post-Insidious films, Michael King exhibits most of the sensibilities of that brand of horror: quippy, smarmy dialogue; loud noises and fast cuts; indiscriminate and superficial use of disparate traditional source materials (though in fairness that’s been around as long as the genre has); and a kind of smugness, a sense that the audience is wrong going into this thing and only the filmmakers can reveal the truth. And like many post-Paranormal Activity films, it relies too heavily on the found footage conceit: rather than crafting meaningful interactions between characters, Michael King prefers to let the documentary style serve to cover up inconsistencies and implausible motivations. There’s even a scene featuring a fixed camera wherein a character gets dragged by an invisible force out of the room. Before the first PA I might have thought it was interesting, if not exactly new; after PA (what are they on now, five?), it’s just trite.
There was a cool setup here for a guy who, in testing the existence of the supernatural, actually opened himself up to possession by numerous different entities. He summoned a demon, he invited a dead guy into his body; they could have gone further down that road, until he ended up a clown car of malevolent spirits. Instead they just went the typical possession route after the premise was laid out, with Michael’s increasingly erratic behavior ultimately becoming violent, etc. etc. blah blah stabby oh no it’s real dead.
I wanna say something nice here, just to round it out. And really, Shane Johnson as Michael deserves some credit for taking an uninspired script and really giving it the old college try. He’s a little wooden, but for this character that sort of seems appropriate, at least initially.
But I can’t muster up enough positivity to make this seem like anything but what it is: an also-ran possession movie with none of the brilliance of The Exorcist, none of the charm of Emily Rose, and all of the garbage I’ve come to expect in the wake of Insidious and Sinister and Paranormal Activity. It’s far from the worst horror film I’ve seen, but it’s also totally forgettable.