When I saw Possum at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, I was blown away. It’s such a weird, depressing, Nouveau-Dickensian nightmare that teeters on the borders of David Lynch and Mike Leigh’s Naked. I was absolutely shocked, however, when I found out exactly who the director was. His name is Matthew Holness, and this is his feature debut. This doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been on the scene forever, and more specifically as an actor in some incredibly ridiculous comedies, including one of my absolute favorite pieces of British absurdity, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, in which he plays the titular character.
Possum is a completely different–animal altogether. With a bleak setting (that reminds me a lot of Trainspotting) in coastal Britain. The film centers on Philip (Sean Harris), a visibly psychologically damaged former teacher. He is obsessed with a strange homemade nursery rhyme (that’s creepy as hell) about a spider named “Possum”. The bad news for people who are uncomfortable with both spiders and puppets, which includes me, is that there is a physical manifestation of the Possum character from the homemade picture book. It’s a puppet of a gigantic spider with a human head. Phillip has tried repeatedly to get rid of the puppet, but somehow it keeps returning.
“…has tried repeatedly to get rid of the puppet, but somehow it keeps returning.”
The majority of the film is Phillip running (with a very strange run, I might add) around the woods and at the beach and in several different places, attempting to get rid of Possum. However, Phillip has more company than just Possum. His incredibly gross and disturbing old Uncle Maurice (Alun Armstrong) lives in the ruins of Phillip’s childhood home. Maurice does not seem to possess one bit of kindness in his body. You can tell that Philip is scared of him and has severe PTSD about something that Maurice did to him as a child.
If this story wasn’t already bleak enough, add to it a boy who was kidnapped, plus the fact that Philip was seen with him on the commuter train, but was it Phillip who killed him? Will Phillip ever get rid of Possum and most importantly will Phillip ever leave his horrible old Uncle behind?
“…a devastating ending that acts as a cathartic release for the emotionally disturbing whirlwind…”
The film answers all these questions with a devastating ending that acts as a cathartic release for the emotionally disturbing whirlwind that Possum drags it’s viewers through. The script is incredibly well written (also by Matthew Holness) and both Sean Harris (Phillip) and Alun Armstrong (Maurice) are incredible in their roles as abusee and abuser respectively.
Possum reminds me a bit of The Babadook in the way it uses fantastical creatures to masquerade as totems of psychological trauma. However, I have to admit that Possum is much more disturbing and depressing than it’s Australian counterpart. Once again, I’ll state how surprising this film is when you consider who made it, but I think that fact makes it all the more excellent.
Possum (2018) Written and Directed by Matthew Holness. Starring Sean Harris, Alun Armstrong, Simon Bubb, and Andy Blithe.
8 Out of 10 Stars