Call up not what ye cannot cast down: an occult look at The Possession of Michael King

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The Possession of Michael KingThe Possession of Michael KingThe Possession of Michael King
Directed by David Jung, 83 min, 22 August 2014

The Possession of Michael King is a found footage horror film. It follows the titular Michael King (Shane Johnson), a bitter atheist who, following the tragic death of his wife in a freak accident, sets out to make a documentary disproving the supernatural.

“The cameras will be rolling on me, 24/7,” King says in the prologue, “In the hopes that, if I encounter anything, anything at all, I will have found the first ever documented proof. I’m the testing ground — me, Michael King. So God, or the Devil, if you’re out there, prove it. Come and get me.”

Things quickly take a turn for the sinister as Michael King tumbles down the rabbit hole of the dark arts, leaving sanity and consensus reality behind.

King puts out an ad on the Internet looking for claims of the existence of the supernatural, which puts him in touch with a wide array of nutters and serious occultists in the film’s strongest segment. He first visits a dying exorcist who recounts a chilling tale of childhood sexual abuse. Seems he had a sneaking stepfather who would visit him night after night. The young boy would pray to God to intervene, to stop his suffering, but he never did, so he began to pray to the Devil, claiming he would do anything to stop the abuse. Shortly thereafter, the stepfather dropped dead.

King, ever the skeptic, claims sympathy, but asks how the exorcist knew it wasn’t just a coincidence. “Because,” the exorcist replies, “I began to hear him. Calling out to me. When he calls your name, don’t ever answer, because then he’ll know you’re listening, and he will never let you go.” This vignette is just a slight taste of the sound metaphysical advice that occurs around the margins of this marginalized film.

Michael King continues to use himself as a testing grounds for hardcore ritual, from Satanism to necromancy, predictably resulting in his being inhabited by a demon, Bahamgore, “Commander of 37 legions,  seeker of the defenceless, the weak-spirited, the non-believer. Known also as the destroyer of thought, breeder of ants. stealer of children. He comes, accompanied by the sound of cacophonous music, staying with the conjurer until tormentum un dementia.” (Tortured unto madness.)

The Possession of Michael King

From here on out, it’s a pretty connect-the-dots kind of scenario, as the demon begins to possess King’s body and strip him of all that he loves, ultimately seeking to claim his young daughter, his pride and joy, the unbearably precious Ladybug.

While the film may be too predictable to feel legitimately horrific, it is a damn fine horror film, with plenty of occult trappings and gritty, macabre ambiance to keep the horror devotee going. And while we may have seen things like this before, like when the demon begins to use King as his rag doll, throwing him around and forcing him to carve an inverted pentagram into his chest, still — you know this is one bad mother, and all hope for King is mostly lost. It’s chilling and kind of hilarious when King tries to train himself as an exorcist when it’s far, far too late.

While the ending may be somewhat predictable, especially considering the origins of the idea in the first place. Filmmaker David Jung had the thought of making a movie like The Shining, that showed every step of the progression into madness. So while we’ve seen the mad ogre father before, this performance by Shane Johnson shows why this movie is worth seeing. Johnson’s possession is full-blown body horror, where the actor switches between looking like a puppet, with its strings being jerked, and a wild, bloodthirsty. The image of a father scenting the breeze like a bloodhound, hunting his own daughter, is particularly unnerving and bestial. Only a last minute intercession, by the forces of faith, allow King a chance for final redemption — the closest approximation of a “happy ending” this film is capable of.

The Possession of Michael King received almost universal disdain from the critics, with Roger Ebert claiming the movie “goes through all the machinations of a found footage possession film with about as much creative spark as an apathetic teen checking off a list in a film class that he hates.” While it is true that the film could be read as a laundry list of found footage horror tropes, this overlooks the film’s charms. Yes, perhaps it does rely on volume-controlled jump scares, and, yes, perhaps Michael King’s insistence on filming everything as he plunges into the shadow realm does stretch the suspension of disbelief a bit thin, but the film is swathed in a sinister, menacing atmosphere, which is driven home by a truly arresting performance by Shane Johnson.

Critics love to hate horror films. Genre works are very rarely taken seriously. But for those of us who love horror, that get off on the pitch black ambiance, the titillating presence (or absence) of the supernatural — for those of us that get giddy seeing Baphomet or the Necronomicon on screen, The Possession of Michael King yields deeper rewards.

One reason for the continuing fascination with horror is the possibility of the supernatural. We’re willing to brave cursed mansions and blasted landscapes for a glimpse of the sublime, even if we risk eternal damnation to do so. And for many of us who were not fortunate enough to have been raised Pagan or in some Thelemic cabal, our first introduction to the metaphysical is often through pop culture, be it film, fiction, music, or comic books. It is in this regard where The Possession Of Michael King truly shines, as the film features some of the most authentic ritual captured on camera this side of a Kenneth Anger film. It serves as an outstanding cautionary tale, an illustration of metaphysical practices, and their possible ramifications.

As King throws down the gauntlet, taunting and mocking infernal powers, he visits a number of practitioners of different faiths. One of the film’s most effective moments is when he subjects himself to a Satanic ritual, high on LSD-laced grape Kool-Aid. The demonologist gives him the low down on what’s about to go down:

There are two prevalent methods for summoning demons. The first is by offering the demon something up front: a human life, continued servitude, your own soul. I don’t recommend those paths as, once performed, they’re very hard to undo. The second path entails creating the kind of frenetic atmosphere demons are drawn to: chaos, blood, sex, violence.

The Satanic ritual that follows is one of the most realistic, and crazy, I’ve seen on film, and the scene as a whole could serve as a primer on modern magick 101. You’ve got the drug-fueled gnosis. You’ve got automatic drawing. You’ve got sigilization, and charging that sigil with sexual fluids. For somebody looking for a very basic, “I want to work my first magical ritual, what should I do?” I would probably show them this scene, to start. (Hopefully wouldn’t scare them away for good.)

The necromantic ritual is even crazier, and has Michael King smoking DMT in a graveyard with a dead man’s teeth sewn to his belly, intended to lure the man’s spirit into King’s body. That’s some pretty witchy stuff! And I was also glad to see some necromancy of film, as it is often overlooked and ignored in the canon (which is touched upon in the film).

Lastly, the main reason why this film is important, apart from being an enjoyable horror film, is to serve as an illustration and possible visualization about what mucking about with the dark arts can do, especially when you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing.

The Possession of Michael King

While The Possession Of Michael King gets blatantly supernatural pretty quickly, there is a brief period where you wonder if he is just flipping out and going crazy. The jury is still out as to what exactly ghosts, demons, angels, and elementals are, or if they even exist. In my personal opinion, you don’t even have to believe in the objective existence of such things to still make an effective mage.1  Because while they may or may not exist in molecular reality, they definitely do exist in the realm of the mind. They exist if we make them exist, and they have power if we give them power.

There’s no telling if invoking demons is just summoning the darkest parts of our selves, looking at the ugly bits that are already there that we don’t like to admit, or if we’re opening a portal to some infernal dimension. There was a period in my life when I was much more glib about such things, stapling Goetic circles of evocation to my bedroom walls, and hanging out with people who were openly practicing black magick. While I cannot comment on what effect those experiments and negative vibrations may have had, I can say that almost that entire group of friends, myself included, either went crazy or went to jail, or some combination of both. There were maggots in the kitchen, and bats in the living room. A cat was hung from the neck. Churches were robbed.

Make of all of that what you will, but I think it’s safe to say that not much good came from out of all of that darkness. This is no moralistic jingo, however. This is merely a friendly reminder, courtesy of Shane Johnson and David Jung, to be careful! To look into what you’re playing with. Not to be so glib and dismissive. Rituals create a potent subconscious atmosphere; seeds are planted in the deep dark. Everything you do on this Earth, and beyond, has an effect, and the mind, heart, and spirit are particularly susceptible.

Have you seen The Possession of Michael King? What did you think? Did your first introductions to the occult came from horror movies and books?

Footnotes:

  1. Ed. note: See Frater U.: D.:’s “Models of magick.” []

4 COMMENTS

  1. Firstly a person needs to be clear on what their definition of a Demon is. Both the author of this article and the movie they are speaking on are using a very Abrahamic definition and perspective.
    The movie’s protagonist seems to hold a viewpoint common to many atheists, namely that they don’t even consider the worth of other (non-Christian) faiths and forms of spirituality. That if the Bible doesn’t hold the answers they seek then the material world must be all there is.
    However many other traditions (Islam, Hinduism, Satanism, Animism, and many ancient religions) hold that Demons are varying mixtures of benevolence and malignancy. An excellent example of this is the Babylonian King of Air Demons Pazuzu. As well as being a bringer of plagues and droughts he was a Protector of children and pregnant women whom he shielded from his rival, the Demoness Lamashtu. Amulets carved with his likeness would often be given to children and women.
    Magickally speaking I would not recommend using Solomonic rituals or evocations as these are actually extremely disrespectful to the entities involved. Their whole basis is rooted in attempts to threaten/coerce the Demon into obeying the practitioner using the supposedly greater power of Jehovah/Yahweh.
    An insulting method guaranteed to cause pain and havoc to the would-be magician should they actually achieve contact with anyone.
    As for myself I’ve been a Devil worshipper since I was 10, I was disgusted by what I read in Bible classes and actually found the idea that an Angel refused to grovel before such a bloodthirsty tyrant inspiring and uplifting. He was someone who was most definitely not ‘just following orders’.
    I have zero tolerance for anyone who abuses either animals or children, it takes a specially pathetic level of coward to hurt something that cannot defend itself or that trusts you. The kind of coward who cannot take responsibility for their own actions and who must blame the victim or an outside force perhaps?

    • Hey Marie!
      Thanks so much for the comment! I couldn’t agree more. The way i’ve been thinking of this lately is by being as specific as possible about what kind of entity yr working with. What a lot of people lump together as “demons” might actually just be “weird” or natural spirits. Even as an image/metaphor, this could be seen as very specifically identifying a mental neurosis, rather than just labelling it under the group term “bipolar” or “borderline”. I’m totally with you; i also abhor anyone who would hurt the innocent. I pretty much abhor anyone who hurts anyone, for no reason. Isn’t there a saying about only taking life to feed or to protect? For myself, i don’t really consider myself anything, or worshipping anything, (or maybe i worship everything?), but these past few years i’ve taken to calling myself a Luciferian. I think that a lot of what people label as “demonic” or “Satanic” are the qualities that raise humanity above the role of sheep or followers. I think Lucifer is actually the patron saint of The Star, the Christ light that dwells within us all. I would’ve never even had this thought, without wading through millions of hours of atrocities, and a lot of dark years, in my own life. I consider Lucifer as a light in the darkness; the flame of revolution; the human nobility, our essential Godhood.

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