Shane Johnson in The Possession of Michael King Some questions you really don’t want the answer to. You only think you do. This is the lesson the title character learns in David Jung’s new found footage horror thriller THE POSSESSION OF MICHAEL KING, a film so disturbing that honestly, I had to turn it off 2/3rds of the way through and finish in the morning. Like in most found footage films, the protagonist is a documentary filmmaker. The difference is that Michael King doesn’t just accidentally catch something he shouldn’t have or keep turning the camera on for no reason with monsters chasing him. Grieving from the recent loss of his wife who died in a tragic car accident, King decides to dive into the world of occult and metaphysics and see if he can contact her. The camera is there to prove all this silliness about the afterlife is fake and all these so-called mediums are charlatans.

Unfortunately for King, he’s very wrong. The filmmaker releases something, maybe many things, into our world and they overrun his life. As he battles to keep sane, and to prove what is happening to him, he’s never had a better reason to

keep the cameras running. I had the opportunity to discuss the film with writer/director David Jung the day before The Possession of Michael King is released on VOD and DVD. “I’ve been writing movies in Hollywood for years and was kind of tired of writing really expensive movies that would be bought and sit on the shelf somewhere,” Jung says. And this became the genius of the found footage film, a genre Jung keeps calling ‘a doc film’ – I wonder what Alex Gibney would think of that. ‘Possession’ began as a collaboration between Jung and his co-writer Tedi Sarafian to write horror films “in a way that if we had no financing, we could shoot them with a cheap camera in our basement.” The found footage style offered Jung the advantage of being “a first time director, it gives me a little bit of wiggle room because it doesn’t have to look pristine … its kind of what people expect.”

However, what really makes the film work is that the premise is entirely believable. “The sole purpose of what he is doing is to record the evidence,” the director says; “Am I going mad? Is something happening? Am I finding the truth? Am I capturing anything?” For once, for this interviewer, the faux-filmmaker actually has an excuse to keep shooting. It helps that King opens his journey by mounting cameras around his house, so he doesn’t have to ‘turn them on’ as he goes, they are just filming everything. As the film progresses, the deeper he gets, the more he needs proof. These cameras become the only record of what is actually happening. “There is a moment at the end where he is looking into the mirror in the bath room,” agrees Jung, “and he is saying ‘please tell my story, tell people, show people what happened to me and the tragic lesson I learned’ because that’s all he has.”

The film is the diary of his possession, the log of what has happened to him. “Where a lot of doc style films can feel forced, like why is the camera here? and why are we doing it this way?” he says, “it felt like a really natural fit for this movie.” What’s really interesting about this perfect match, is that The Possession of Michael King was almost completely different. “I actually wrote the script as a doc style,” Jung says, “and then I had a company that was interested in doing it as a film, traditional cinematic style, and then rewrote the entire the thing to be shot as a movie.” As he rewrote, he became very interested in the possibilities of making the film that way. It was very freeing to think: “I don’t have to motivate this camera to like pop in for a close up to convey this emotion, I can just do it.” Content Film had just acquired a horror film at Sundance (THE PACT) and, according to Jung, this was the model they were working off. “I would rather have shot this as a movie, he says, “and I finished the script for them, but the budget was extremely low. … and then what happened is THE DEVIL INSIDE came out, and whatever you think about that film, it did gangbusters at the box office and suddenly everyone wanted found footage possession movies and I happened to have one, within that week I got five offers from studios to make this movie.”

The found footage budget offer was actually double what the traditional film style budget was going to be. This meant essentially scrapping the latest version and going back to the original draft. As a filmmaker, Jung felt it somewhat frustrating to go back to some of the constraints of the earlier style: “I had written what I had felt were some really great, cool, creepy scenes and I went back and thought ‘maybe I can motivate the camera for him to be going into these really dark spaces and have this really dark thing happen to him,’” but the reality was, Jung couldn’t get the production company to read the other versions of the film. They had signed off on one version of the story and that was the one they were going to make; even if there was something fantastic to be drawn out of another draft, they wouldn’t even open the script.

“Going back to the found footage version was a little bit of a let down for me,” he confesses. But The Possession of Michael King still creates some beautifully frightening screen pictures, unlike a film like PARANORMAL ACTIVITIES. Jung “wanted the movie to have a cinematic look to it, we didn’t want it to look like really low grade video.” For part of the film within the film, King has an assistant to help film (and set up the camera in an interesting place,” but he is also very aware of the pictures he is taking, trying to find the right angle to document his descent into madness. “I wanted it to have a look to it that you could kind of get lost in, and forget the doc aspect to it,” Jung says, “even though every shot, if you look at it, is motivated.” Is there anything that can make the viewer forget the style, it is when the footage takes a distinct turn for the macabre as King begins to keep a record a series of self-mutilations that he claims he cannot feel. It is really disturbing, far more than the half-second glimpse found footage films often give the viewer of the monster.

Here the monster is right in front of the camera, asking what is happening to him. He is aware of how he is being presented, and the worse it gets, the more important filming becomes. “I feel like [when]you watch Paranormal Activities, you don’t watch those kind of movies more than once,” the director says, “I wanted this to be a movie that you wouldn’t be frustrated if you went back and watched it again.”

One of the best things about Jung’s film is the tour-de-force performance by Shane Anderson, who is on screen for almost the entirety of the running time. “Shane came in and first of all he has this great voice,” remembers Jung; “for a guy that’s going to be talking to us and talking to the camera that’s an important aspect.” Also for the director, “he’s a very witty guy, a sarcastic guy and he reminded me a little bit of myself, and the way I had written the character as this guy that’s walking in and kind of poking fun at all these people a little bit.”

Michael King takes on the five stages of grief in a fairly odd way, experiencing the loss of his wife through the framework of being overtaken not by grief, but by an other-worldly presence. The role required a great deal of resiliency as an actor, just like King’s own search for answers. “I did put him through the ringer,” Jung admits, often asking for another take “as he’s racing up and down the stairs in his underwear on all fours.”

Johnson is currently a recurring cast member in the 50 Cent-produced Starz series Power but he actually started his film career being shot at on the beach of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, which is sort of awesome to think about. Jung has nothing but praise for Johnson’s work in the film, saying: “we really had a great rapport between us which I think we needed to have for this film because we had such a short time to shoot it.” During shooting, when some new thought or director crossed the director’s mind, he could just shout it out. “Shane would process for a moment and then he would nod and say ‘okay lets do it’ and he would do something different,” Jung says, “he’d take the note and thought I gave him and make them completely his own and always came back with something that was better than I could have imagined.”

As I was preparing to write this story, I did something I rarely do, I read a few other reviews (the film came out theatrically last Thursday), and I was shocked to find how few critics appreciated what a triumph this film is. This is a genre piece that overcomes all the pitfalls of the found footage style, tells a sleek story that is truly frightening, and contains a fantastic performance from the lead actor. What more could you want? This isn’t a film that is going to change the world, but it might change the way you think about ‘doc films’ as David Jung calls them. It even has a surprising end, one that reaffirms the power of love.

I don’t want to ruin it, but I believe that in many ways, the slightly positive uptick at the end of this film is far more risky than the dark place it could have left us. Although apparently there is another version of the ending they shot, Jung agrees with me whole-heartedly: “the stronger ending is yes he’s proved the existence of the dark side; in proving the existence of the dark side, you also prove the existence of the light side.” Next up for Jung is a Catch-Me-If-You-Can type of story based on Craig Glazer “King of Sting” for which he is currently in negotiations with a studio to write and direct. Further down the dark twisted road of the future is a film called R.O.A.M., which stands for Rider of Another Mortal, and is sort of a take on the 1966 Rock Hudson film SECONDS, in which a company allows you the opportunity to inhabit another body, and possibly, if you liked it enough, stay there forever. Only problem is these bodies belong to other people. Jung has started a website where you can track the progress of this film ‘from soup to nuts’ along with the production team at http://roam.virb.com — the teaser looks pretty awesome. David Jung’s THE POSSESSION OF MICHAEL KING is out today on VOD and DVD.

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