Possum Movie Review
Written by Joanna K. Neilson
Released by Bulldog Film Distribution
Written and directed by Matthew Holness
2018, 85 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Released on 26th October 2018
Sean Harris as Philip
Alun Armstrong as Maurice
Simon Bubb as Mr. Evans
Andy Blithe as Michaels Father
Philip (Sean Harris) is a luckless puppeteer disgraced by some unspecified act, who returns to his poverty-stricken family home to stay with a rather Dickensian monster named Uncle Maurice (Alun Armstrong). Adrift from himself, and even more paranoid when a teenage boy goes missing, poor Philip is forever carrying around a single bag containing all the weight of the titular ‘Possum’, and we quickly realise that his very sad life is nothing short of a waking nightmare.
Possum flows like a sick dream, sucking us deep into the backwaters of Philip’s broken psyche. Played with brilliant, unsettling intensity by Sean Harris, he exhibits all the hallmarks of a horribly stunted human deprived of any normal development. His face is stuck in a constant, almost frog-like expression of perplexity, and he walks like a little boy, stomping around bleak wastelands in the Norfolk countryside, rigidly carrying a hideous burden that he can never quite get rid of. If any character was sorely in need of a hug, it’s this badly damaged man. But there’s a real dissonance in how he manages to look so neat, too. Ironed shirts and pressed pyjamas are starkly at odds with the squalid conditions he lives in. It seems like an odd thing to focus on, but the too-smart clothes (apart from a ratty brown trench coat), the building’s squalor, the skipping rope and school bag hung up by the door of his ‘home’, all contribute to a sense that pure madness is lurking much too close for comfort, perhaps just barely out of sight.
We’re with Philip all the way here, immersed in his routines and gnawing terror, trying urgently to make sense of his situation, longing for him to find a resolution, or a way back to safety. The horror is constantly foreshadowed, and it eventually delivers, though it may or may not be what you expected, but not before Philip’s constant fear and self-loathing have throttled you for a good hour or more. The repetition of some scenes may gradually get infuriating too, but like a bad dream, the too-familiar locations ultimately pull together into something greater and much worse.
And then there’s little Possum himself. Holy crap. Wisely holding back the appearance of the creature at first, teasing viewers with nightmarish glimpses, if you’re only here to see if the design delivers on the gorgeous poster art, hopefully you won’t leave here disappointed.
The music is vital, too. In this almost silent film, the deliriously atmospheric soundtrack by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop is another huge point in its favour, pulling chills from moody silence and using deep, unnerving hums that combine to scare the hell out of you. There are more clashing scare chords but they’re rarely used, and it’s certainly not a jump fest. This is about dread - the inescapable terror of something very impure, and not at all simple.
After all, fear means different things to different people; Some people are scared of spiders to the point of paralysis, and some really aren’t. But Possum pulls together such bleak, creeping unease that something here will definitely dig its way beneath your skin. Most horror films provide us with all sorts of terrifying boogeymen, but Possum knows that there are far worse things waiting for us than the special effects monster giggling under the bed.
So while there IS a monster, this is not a typical popcorn movie at all, and while at one point it almost feels too long (even at just 85 minutes), and is often quite uncomfortable to watch, Possum deftly explores a difficult subject in the way only something defined as ‘horror’ can.
So please go along, give in and open yourself up to experience every fearful breath of Possum’s dark little dream
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