Directed by Matthew Holness
Starring Sean Harris, Alun Armstrong, Simon Bubb, and Andy Blithe.
After returning to his childhood home, a disgraced children’s puppeteer is forced to confront his wicked stepfather and the secrets that have tortured his entire life.
Matthew Holness, best known for the cult-comedy classics Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace and Man-to-Man with Dean Learner, has now joined among the ranks of comedy-cum-horror filmmakers club with his feature-length debut Possum. Anyone familiar with Holness’ earlier work will understand this transition. Shows like Darkplace and Man-to-Man parodied classic British sci-fi and horror tropes of the 1970s and 80s, though always done with love and affection. Now shifting his creativity from parody to pastiche he creates this tense horror/thriller of a disgraced puppeteer dealing with the demons of his past.
Philip (Sean Harris) created an arachnid puppet with a human head moulded after his own. This, unsurprisingly, terrified the children he was performing to and he retreated to his childhood home; a mould-encrusted dilapidated house, still occupied by his creepy stepfather Maurice (Alun Armstrong).
Harris performance as Philip is unnerving, yet sympathetic, brilliantly balancing his character as both victim and predator. His first encounter with local schoolchildren on a public train will make audiences feel uneasy. Harris’ gravelly vocal delivery through the innocent inflexions and dialogue – address his old school teacher as ‘Sir’ or ‘Miss’ – will keep audiences on their toes. Is he sinister, or is he broken? In short, he captures the emotionally stunted childlike demeanour inside a damaged adult waiting to explode.
Playing opposite him is the venomous stepfather Maurice (Alun Armstrong), who takes perverse pleasure in belittling Philip. The dialogue is minimal, dripping with sinister subtext – it’s what’s not being said is the terrifying angle here – and culminates in one of the most unsettling climaxes in film this year.
The focus is on Philip and the psychological stranglehold the demented puppet wields over him. In a Lynchian spectacle with a heavy dose of Hammer Horror, Philip descends ever further into madness as the arachnid puppet tightens its grip on the tormented protagonist. Crawling around corners in the dead of night and staring at Philip in the eyes, the uncertainty of the puppets powers pervades.
In the press notes, Holness speaks of wanting to create a modern silent horror film. The opening sequence puts this influence at the forefront with a colour scheme reminiscent of the 1929 classic silent horror The Phantom Carriage and the surrealist imagery akin to An Andalusian Dog. The grainy imagery brings out the harshness and murkiness of the English countryside.
Possum is a modern-day chiller. Jump scares and needless exposition are exchanged for a poetically rich script, unnerving performances from its central protagonists, and a harsh music score that will hard to forget anytime soon.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★