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updated: 8/22/2014 10:35 AM

Gire: 'Possession' possesses underwhelming scares

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  • A documentary filmmaker (Shane Johnson) dares demons to take his body during an occult ritual in "The Possession of Michael King."

      A documentary filmmaker (Shane Johnson) dares demons to take his body during an occult ritual in "The Possession of Michael King."

  • Video: "Possession of Michael trailer

 
 

I have seen "The Possession of Michael King" so many times before -- under other titles and with different casts -- that it no longer possesses the power to shock me, amuse me or amaze me with insights into God, Satan or the afterlife.

Here comes another in a long line of generic "found footage" films that only halfheartedly embraces the "found" documentary format popularized by the breakthrough 1999 horror tale "The Blair Witch Project." (Director Daniel Myrick swore to me he didn't know "Cannibal Holocaust" had already used the device in 1979.)

Most of the time, the footage we see has been gleaned from the many cameras that documentary maker Michael King has placed around his house to record possible supernatural activities.

Other times, such as with establishing shots of the house's exterior and close-ups of Michael King going nuts, it appears to come out of the needs of conventional filmmaking.

"The Possession of Michael King" marks the directorial debut of screenwriter David Jung, who, if the Anchor Bay press notes are accurate, grew up with a father so obsessed with horror movies that he dressed up as Count Dracula (with cape and hand-carved ivory fangs) all the time.

With Dad, Jung experimented with Ouija boards, satanic scriptures and homemade "scientific" experiments intended to raise the dead.

Presumably, they didn't work. But they apparently provided Jung with all the experience necessary to write, produce and direct "Michael King," a familiar tale of demonic possession with a strong, full-throttle performance by Shane Johnson.

Johnson, whose acting credits come mostly from television, brings a persuasive, urgent realism to King, a faithless father and husband who, in a moment of haughty hubris, challenges God and Satan to bring it on just so he can prove they don't exist.

God doesn't accept the challenge. The other guy does.

A despondent King recently lost his wife, and we know he misses her because he drags out old videos of her, as all spouses invariably do in movies when they need to show us how much they miss a loved one.

King has been trying to be a good parent for his little daughter Ellie (Ella Anderson), required to look cute and vulnerable before transitioning into the obligatory frightened harbinger of doom.

She keeps seeing a monster in her dreams. King goes to comfort her. She says to him, "The monster! (...wait for it ...) It's you, Daddy!"

Poor guy. All he wanted to do was prove that the other side exists so he'd know his loving wife had a place to go.

Like the director/writer, King seeks the supernatural by participating in occult rituals and satanic seances and hanging out with undertakers, necromancers and demonologists, daring the dark forces to do their worst.

A particularly nasty demon takes the bait, an entity known as a king of the ants. (The potential for a Raid commercial goes woefully squandered.)

"Michael King" offers nothing new to the "found footage" horror cannon. Its scares mostly come from sudden visual/audio ambushes, climaxed by a disappointing and underwhelming homage to "The Exorcist."

For the record, the film's single cringe-worthy moment involves King slowly pressing a big needle directly into the tip of his finger.

He doesn't feel anything.

By the end, unfortunately, neither do we.

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