‘Little possum… black as sin’
During lockdown, I mostly spent my time wading through the backlog of films that I really should have seen in the last couple of years. While that has been enjoyable, the nature of the beast means I’m watching a lot of Oscar bait, a lot of Hollywood standard fare. Satisfying as that is, it’s important to stray into the unknown from time to time. To explore the avant garde. To emerge from your comfort zone to find a dark pair of eyes glaring back at you… well… Possum is as dark as it gets.
Phillip (Sean Harris) is a troubled young man who has returned to his family home, the scene of an unspeakable tragedy, having been disgraced in a way that is never fully explained but is almost certainly linked to the terrifying puppet that Phillip carries round in a zip bag. Aiding Phillip’s descent into madness is his despicable stepfather Maurice (Alun Armstrong), a character so repugnant that it is almost difficult to look at him.
First time director Matthew Holness (Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace) has crafted a film that is unrelentingly nightmarish and bleak. The decrepit and barren fields in which the film largely takes place call to mind Shane Meadows’ dark masterpiece Dead Man Shoes, and Possum packs a similarly emotionally eviscerating punch. Sean Harris has long since proven himself as one of Britain’s finest actors having played every monster imaginable, but in Possum, it is Harris himself who is tortured. He delivers a sunken, desperate performance here, sharing most of his scenes with monsters and demons – either real or imagined.
This brings us to Possum itself… the name for the hideous puppet that plagues Phillips waking nightmares. The body of a spider and the head of disfigured human sounds like something that could end up being over the top but when it starts to move, boy, is it chilling. As a arachnophobe, I found the whole thing to be incredibly stressful and traumatising.
Possum is an emotionally draining film. Indeed, my one criticism is that there isn’t enough here to justify a feature length movie. While it is certainly never boring, it is repetitive in its own monstrous way and while the conclusion is suitably deranged and unforgettable, the journey doesn’t quite justify the conclusion.
Matthew Holness’ directorial debut is certainly worth watching for horror aficionados, if only for Harris’ performance alone, but be warned, this is for neither the fainthearted or for those looking for cheap scares.