I love a horror film overflowing with evil. I mean, like hard to contain evil. I’m not dogging slasher films, monster movies, weirdly disturbing genres, creepy Japanese stories or the like; I just LOVE a supernatural slap in the face. Writer/director, David Jung , knows evil…several forms of it. In his newest film, The Possession Michael King (review here), Jung takes an over-saturated genre to an uncomfortable level. If you haven’t seen the film, this interview does contain some spoiler-ish activity.
The Possession of Michael King arrives in theaters August 22 and hits VOD, iTunes, and digital platforms August 26.
Fister: Thank you for sharing your time with me and the horror community, David, I’m excited to have you here. I mentioned the consistently declining quality of possession films in my review of your film, “The Possession of Michael King”. In my opinion, this genre is guilty of churning out formulaic garbage, but your film caught me off guard with its dark originality. Your protagonist, Michael King, literally goes looking for the oldest, most suffocating evil rumored to exist, and finds it. How did this story come to be?
David: First off, thanks for your awesome review of the movie! I’m glad that you genuinely seemed to enjoy it!
I had an idea for a movie that was kind of like a horror version of Memento. Basically, a guy wakes up in an alleyway, covered in blood. With no idea who he is, or how he got there. We come to find out that he’s possessed by a demon, and that he did this to himself. But every time he puts the pieces back together, the demon forces him to kill those around him, and wipes his mind again, leaving him at the end of the film, right back where he started. I had the whole thing worked out. I pitched it to a friend of mine, and he thought the coolest part of the story was that this guy intentionally did this to himself.
That set me off on the direction of creating Michael King. A man, not unlike Harry Houdini, that so very much wants to believe there’s something else out there, but the realist in him, won’t let him take that leap of faith without seeing some kind of physical proof. A man that so strongly feels that the supernatural is not real that he’s willing to make himself the testing ground for it. Found footage films were really hot at the time, and I thought it would be great fun to do this doc style, so that we could really explore the nature of some of these bizarre rituals with Michael.
I find myself consistently drawn to the theme of transformation. One of my all time favorite films is David Cronenberg’s The Fly. I love watching the slow unraveling of a somewhat normal human being as an outside or inside force turns them into something else. I wanted to try to capture that as much as possible in this story. In essence, I wanted to do The Shining, from the POV of Jack Torrance.
After my wife read the first draft, she turned to me and said, “I can’t believe this came out of your head. I’m uncomfortable being married to you.” It remains one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten in my life.
Fister: I loved the fact that you gave Michael so many occult options to choose from. He participates in everything from Necromancy to Satanism, pausing to also take DMT in a graveyard. I loved the truly evil options Michael explores. Contemporary horror films are filled with a lot of cliché ideas about supernatural evil, what made you choose these extreme options for this character?
David: C’mon, who doesn’t love to do DMT in a graveyard every once in a while? It actually took Cullen Douglas (who played the Mortician) about a dozen takes to finally spit out the word dimethyltryptamine without stuttering.
I love to do research. It’s one of my favorite parts of the writing process. When I get into it, I tend to let it consume me a little bit. With this story, there was so much I wanted to learn about. I spent a great deal of time tracking down some pretty arcane manuscripts, and dealing with some pretty… um… interesting people in the process.
I wanted each one of the rituals that Michael took part in to be as authentic as possible, as dynamic as possible, and as different as possible. I was hoping to create the feeling that Michael was reaching out to the dark arts community at large, and that he was only following up with (or that we were only seeing) the most credible of those individuals.
As Michael states in the movie, he wants to dive into the deep end, to test the blackest magic possible, to prove once and for all that it’s not real. Well, to test the blackest magic possible, and the write about the blackest magic possible, I had to first figure out what that magic was. Let me tell you, there’s some dark shit out there.
As a side note, a lot of people want to know which ritual it was that actually possessed Michael. I think it’s kind of cool that people have different theories. This was a conscious decision to not have the audience be able to point to any specific thing that Michael does in the film as being the catalyst for his possession. I wanted the kitchen sink conversations to be: what did it? Did all of the rituals work? Did none of them work? My personal feeling is that all you have to do to find true evil is open yourself up to it, and let it in. There really are no rituals required.
Fister: The film was so plausible in the land of suspended horror disbelief, that I’m inclined to think you might have some less than casual interests regarding this darker layer of life. Are these New Age, occult, and psychedelic ideas something you simply chose for the film. or are you genuinely curious about these things?
David: I’m not a practicing warlock, if that’s what you’re wondering. But I am definitely drawn to darker subject matter. I find that the colorful mythology and practices behind the occult are much more fun to read about than say, most of the droll mythology behind Christianity or Judaism or any of the other popular cults, or excuse me, religions (a lot of which stem from pagan occult practices).
I think we’re all curious about what happens when we die. It’s a pretty universal theme, since it eventually happens to all of us. Not to get caught up in a conversation about semantics, but there is a lot of Michael King in me. I’m a very cynical person. I need to see things for myself, discover them for myself, before I will give them any credence. Maybe someday I’ll actually do a real version of this film, with myself at the center of it. To see what really happens…
Fister: Shane Johnson is wonderful as King. His slow descent was terrifying. Shane delivers an unnerving performance, one that got under my skin, and that’s a bit of a rarity these days. Was there anything occult-specific you did to prepare him for the role? Douse him in goat blood, command satanic invocations, play Creed records backwards?
David: Shane was amazing. We were lucky that he responded to the material as strongly as he did. His natural sarcasm and wit really played into what I was looking for on the surface when casting for Michael King. It also helped out that he could improvise in a snap, something that came in real handy with our tight shooting schedule!
Shane and I spent a lot of time talking about his character. Who he was as a person, and not a lot of time getting into the ritualistic aspect of what he was going to be delving into. I really didn’t want him to know that much about the supernatural because I wanted his outsiders perspective to seem as authentic as possible. I wanted him to be learning about these rituals at the same time as the audience. At least the portion of the audience that aren’t necromancers or demonologists!
We would joke on-set that this movie was “the Shane show.” You get about halfway through the film, and the rest of the actors start to slowly disappear, leaving just Shane on-screen. Exploring his own sanity, or lack thereof as we witness his decline into personal demonic madness.
I think this helplessness and desperation he so wonderfully displays towards the end of the film is in part tribute to the fact that he’s gone into this esoteric world of the supernatural as a novice.
Fister: The viewer is subjected to a lot of intense visual evil, and as good as that is; the sound engineering behind this film, literally made me cringe a time or two. Was that something you had set in stone, or did you shift gears along the way? Some good ideas make way for great ideas once the tone is set.
David: There’s always a learning curve that comes along with making a film. You start with an idea that changes as it turns into a script. Then that script changes as you storyboard it. Then the storyboards change as you shoot the film. You’re constantly finding solutions to problems that present themselves on set in terms of budget and location, and sometimes you’re discovering things you never would have thought of in the first place. Things that are cooler than you’d first anticipated.
Sound was always an important aspect to this story. This subtle unnerving chattering static that Michael begins to hear, which slowly gets louder and louder throughout the course of the story, until they’re screaming voices in his head. I really wanted to externalize that somehow. Through the few times we hear brief squirts of it emerging from his mouth, to the moments where he’s standing and staring at a wall, I wanted to build a sense that this sound, these disturbing noises, were not going to let him go, just as the jolts of sound were not going to let the audience go. Hopefully leaving one with the impression of: my god – what would that be like if every moment of every day of my life was filled with a barrage of piercing sound. How long you think it would take for that alone to drive one mad!
Fister: I appreciate you being here, David. Before you go, do you have any current or future horror projects in the works? It’s safe to assume I’m looking forward to your next film.
David: Yes. I’ve just finished the script for my next film. It’s called ROAM, a moniker that stands for Rider of Another Mortal. It’s a dark horror thriller that has some grounded sci-fi elements to it. The basic concept is: what if you could hi-jack and go for a ride in someone else’s body? Think maybe Fight Club meets Coma. I’m really, really excited about it.
I’m raising money now to shoot a short film based on the script, and hope to have that off the ground in the next few months. If you want to stay informed on our progress, go to ROAMMOVIE.COM, I’ve put up a temporary website. There you can read the script for the short, see some images, some mock trailers. It’ll be updated regularly. We’ll have the storyboards up there in a few weeks, and then some test footage. Be sure to like our ROAM Movie page on Facebook as well!
Thanks for the insightful questions Nate. Glad you liked the movie!
Fister: Thank you again, David, your film legitimately crept me the hell out. I appreciate the amount of evil you explored to bring us this killer possession film!