Possum Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by Dark Sky Films
Written and directed by Matthew Holness
2018, 85 minutes, Not Rated
Released on November 2nd, 2018
Starring:Sean Harris as Philip
Alun Armstrong as Maurice
Charlie Eales as Michael Browning
Every so often you encounter a movie that gets to you on a level that is uncommon in cinema, be it highbrow or lowbrow. If you’re lucky or unlucky enough (depending on your perspective) to experience one of these movies, you find yourself sitting in silence long after the credits have rolled while your brain grasps for purchase and tries desperately to process the assault. David Cronenberg is famous for making movies like that; so is David Lynch. The two are clear influences on the director of Possum.
In short, there are movies that have to lay it out with painfully ham-fisted exposition designed for the masses, then there are movies that use striking imagery and ungodly creep factor to speak to a buried message with subliminal authority. The first feature-length film writer/director Matthew Holness (the highly recommended TV series Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace), does the latter with vicious effectiveness.
This movie should come with a trigger warning.
Philip (Sean Harris; Mission Impossible: Fallout) is a disgraced puppeteer returning to his childhood home. His twisted and nasty stepfather, Maurice (Alun Armstrong; Krull), is there to resume making his life a living hell. A young boy named Michael Browning (Charlie Eales) is missing, and it seems that Philip knows something about it. However, he’s being haunted by the freakish puppet known as Possum, a spider with a mannequin head that follows him relentlessly despite his attempts to destroy it. Is Philip losing his mind? Did he take Michael? What does Philip have to do to get rid of Possum?
You don’t watch Possum; you feel Possum. It’s a grimy, moldy, morally corrupt sight. Sean Harris is so singularly unequaled in the physicality and anguish of this performance. You will feel the weight of everything horrible that has happened to him. It takes two to dance that hideous tango, though, and Alun Armstrong is the personification of sleaze and danger. From the first time he’s on screen your brain is screaming “danger!” at full volume. This two-man show is a master class in tension building. You know a reveal so dark that it’s practically obsidian is coming, and you can’t turn away.
The style is a bastard child of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, David Cronenberg’s The Brood, and the most effective visual elements of silent horror. It’s a fascinating blend that raises the hair on your arms on numerous occasions. The score, provided by the BBC’s famous Radiophonic Workshop, is its own character in the story and often freaks you out more than the visuals! The locations are flat, ugly, and bleak. The whole damn thing is bleak.
You’re left to decipher much of the story through extremely minimal dialogue and visual setup. Once the third act gets rolling like a powerful old diesel finally hitting top end, your suspicions are confirmed when the story becomes fully explanative. It’s a nasty shock and leaves you wanting a shower. I’m not kidding when I say this movie should come with a trigger warning.
The human-faced spider puppet is fucking terrifying; there’s no polite way to put it. In the grand old horror tradition of the monster you can’t get rid of, the spider simply won’t go away! The beauty is that it’s not without deeper meaning; in fact, it’s symbolic of the real issue and makes the movie almost a fairy tale.
Possum is not a movie that everyone will appreciate. The pacing is all about slowly mounting suspicion and terror; not an easy watch by any stretch. Combine that with the legit triggers that will catch some folks who’ve gone through abuse off-guard and you have a film that is, as they say, not for everyone.
Stick with it, though. The horror in Possum is brutally human and mercilessly hard on the eyes. I warn you.