Possum by Matthew Holness is a suffocating, dark, very British psychological horror.
Puppet Loveby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Possum is a very British horror, set in the East Anglian fenlands, marshy, deserted and ominous.
Philip (Sean Harris) arrives by train to a small, deserted country station with a mysterious something in his holdall. He returns to the dilapidated, filthy house he grew up in where his uncle Maurice (a disgustingly grungy Alun Armstrong) lives in solitary squalor.
He’s a children’s puppeteer (as was his uncle), now fleeing to the bleak fenland in some kind of disgrace and the sinister thing in his bag is a burden that he can’t get rid of. It could be a real thing or the manifestation of a past trauma that he’s written a poem about in a childhood scrapbook. Although he tries to destroy it by burning and drowning, it always reappears and gradually we get to see more of it, a grotesque, horrifying travesty of a giant spider puppet. Meanwhile, the local news reports that a schoolboy has gone missing.
Dialogue is sparse, the story is told through the superbly eerie sounds of the BBC Radiophonic workshop. The oozing landscapes lend themselves to the sense of loathing and disgust; the pervading light is muddy and foggy. The direction – by Matthew Holness (TV comedy Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace) adapting his own short story – cuts confusingly back and forth between dark abuse from Philip’s childhood, his nightmare dreams and his waking nightmares, blurring the distinction between external and internal realities. It’s basically a two-hander: Philip appears haunted and hunted, Maurice is malicious, taunting and threatening and the reality of the world around them seems like an unexplained hallucination.
Possum plays with the idea of playing possum, of things appearing dead that aren’t really, and that may in fact be alive. They may be tangible, delusions or psychological pain that is unresolved. The film is scary and intriguing in equal measure, with subtle elements of homage to 1970s horrors.
Possum is released on 26 October 2018 in the UK.