AUGUST 7, 2014
I forget if it was here or in a BAD article, but I recently came to the conclusion that the reason I am less critical of possession/exorcism movies than many of my peers is that I saw The Exorcist relatively late considering when I started watching horror movies - I was 19, well over a decade after my first viewings of Texas Chain Saw, Friday the 13th, etc. So I was already a bit desensitized (and had probably seen a couple of its knockoffs), and thus it didn't give me the nightmares and permanently scarred psyche that those who saw it when they were 10 or 12 have had ever since. And in turn, when a movie like The Possession of Michael King comes along and fails to be "as scary as The Exorcist" (now and forever the point of comparison), it's not as big a deal to me - I quite like Friedkin's film and recognize its power, but it's not so important to me than the average knockoff can't ever be enjoyed.
Incidentally I saw Exorcist for the first time right around the same time (possibly even the same week) as Blair Witch Project, which remains the alpha and omega of found footage movies, at least with regards to how realistic the device is implemented. I can't recall if it says so in the film or if it's just part of the well-established lore surrounding the film thanks to the website and Sci-Fi Channel specials, but the story goes, the police found Heather and Josh's footage out in the woods, all out of order and unmarked. Having no idea what to do with it, they gave it to the local film school and asked them to piece together the events in order so that they could use it for their investigation. So any "movie-like" moments had that built in explanation, not that they indulged in it beyond adding comic relief at the top of the film. Michael King, on the other hand, lacks any sort of explanation for how we're seeing what we are, which had me (and my friend) questioning the presentation. Why did it have score? Who put it together for us to watch? Why do his home videos of his wife, clearly shot with a digital camera, have an 8mm color tint and framing to them?
However, it otherwise DOES justify the gimmick a lot better than many others of late; after the wife's death via car accident (which he blames on a psychic telling her to be somewhere to catch a job opportunity that never actually came - had she carried on with her original plans she wouldn't have been in the spot where she was hit), our hero Michael takes it upon himself to make a documentary to prove that psychic readings, demons, spirits, etc are not real. His hope is that by proving there is no truth behind any of this stuff he can help someone else avoid the same fate as his wife - so of course within 15 minutes we see proof that demons and such are in fact real. He tries to rationalize it at first, and then spends a good chunk of the movie trying to vanquish whatever has possessed him. All of this is pretty standard stuff, we get jump scares, moments where he can't remember what he just did, he scares his family members... other than the rare sight of a male going through these motions (Regan, Emily Rose, Nell Sweetzer... demons sure love the ladies) it's nothing to write reviews about, really.
But then there's a twist of sorts - the demon pretty much completely takes over, and his sister has taken his daughter out of harm's way after he clearly kills the family dog. So you have a third act that's almost entirely a one-man show where a fully possessed guy is smashing up his house, talking about bugs, or (when briefly getting control) trying to kill himself. And even the "Why are they filming?" question has a good answer for once - not only did he set up cameras around the house (because of course) but he has a little pen-sized cam on his neck (two of them actually, it's a sort of collar) that I guess the demon didn't see the need to remove. So you get unusual angles on the action (particularly during a bit where he assaults the guy who helped him conjure the demon), and a refreshing lack of people filming their friends getting murdered, which is what most FF movies end up doing. Again, there's no real explanation for how we're seeing this footage (he seemingly destroys the computer that I assumed had contained all the footage), but at least the in-moment logic works.
It's unfortunate that writer/director/producer/etc (the giant ass credits at the end made his repeated crediting of himself all the more obnoxious) David Jung insisted on attempting to make the audience deaf by the end of his 80 or so minute movie. Not one for subtle scares, he constantly goes for the increasingly tiresome (particularly in FF movies) approach of adding loud distortion out of nowhere to make the movie theoretically more terrifying. It may work on occasion (i.e. the first time), but by the end it gets pretty numbing and obnoxious - you can sense when they're coming (the movie will get quiet) and plug your ears while rolling your eyes. I like that he used camera distortion to add to the effect (as if the demon was possessing the camera as well), but as with all types of scares, less is more - had he been a bit more selective with this concept, the movie as a whole would have been better. You could sense the audience getting tired of having their ears assaulted; eventually it became a bit like one of those internet gags where they tell you to stare at a picture and then Pazuzu will appear accompanied by a loud noise - except 20 times in a row.
But there was enough I liked to give it a pass. Michael's driving force was rather touching (it's very rare I feel sad for anyone in a modern horror flick, let alone a found footage one), and other than a painful "homage" at the very end I thankfully wasn't being reminded of Exorcist every 5 minutes (or Last Exorcism, an even more apt comparison given the found footage approach). The occasional bits of humor were well implemented, and the pacing was fast, which is always tough for a FF film. And it was vastly more entertaining than the ghost hunter guy who talked before the movie and played some audio recordings of potential EVP - it's hard enough to buy into this stuff when we're seeing it on Ghost Hunters or whatever, but when it's a guy just playing audio? We just have to take his word for it that the "get out" we hear wasn't added later or staged at the time? And that was one of the better ones; another one he played sounded like someone's cell going off. Ooooh. This pointless diversion kept me from sticking around for the Q&A as I had to get back to my own demonic entity (a piss-happy baby), which I felt bad about since my friend was moderating, but made me feel guilty about my own Q&As as they are always before the movie (since we're at midnight and the guests probably don't want to stick around until 2 am). I hope I'm not that boring when you just want to watch the movie!
What say you?