VOD film review: Possum
James R | On 27, Oct 2018
Director: Matthew Holness
Cast: Sean Harris, Alun Armstrong, Simon Bubb
How do you follow a creation like Garth Marenghi, author, dreamweaver and visionary? Matthew Holness has given us the answer with Possum, a creepy, disturbing horror movie that’s certainly no laughing matter.
Holness has been at the helm before on a number of short films, including knowing pastiche A Gun for George and a Halloween-themed comedy for Sky, and his feature debut unfolds on a suitably small scale; like Marenghi’s Darkplace, a cheesy retro paranormal thriller set in a Romford hospital, Possum is both rooted in a keen knowledge of the horror genre (particular the 70s and 80s) and an accomplished eye for low-fi effects. This a step up for Holness, but its success lies in the fact that it feels more like a step inwards – Possum is a decidedly British slice of dreary, clinging chills, as tiny as it is deeply unsettling.
Sean Harris stars as Philip, a puppeteer who returns to his childhood home after a mysterious disgrace. That baggage is visibly carried around with him, as he lugs about a duffel bag that contains – you guessed it – the titular Possum. Holness manages to craft a figure here that has a uniquely terrifying quality; a stop-motion creature from the black lagoon that is Philip’s mind. Possum brings the biggest scares, as the monster refuses to be defeated, repeatedly returning from various forms of destruction, and Holness carefully resists showing us it in full for as long as possible; the moment when we do is topped only by the uneasy tension of a series of spindly legs emerging from between the slithering branches of a tree.
Harris, a character actor who’s most recently enjoyed a high-profile villain in Mission: Impossible, is a master of introverted, unusual men, and he plays Philip with a compelling combination of weirdness and sadness – we see him early on attempt to make conversation with a young passenger on a train, only to fail at basic human interaction. When that boy turns up on the news later as having disappeared, you’re not quite sure whether Philip had anything to do with it, but you wouldn’t be surprised either way. Harris is complimented by the always-excellent Alun Armstrong as his bullying, berating Uncle Maurice, and their abusive, hate-fuelled bond is unpicked slowly over the 90 minutes – an isolating relationship that’s echoed by Holness’ apt choice of sparse Norfolk landscape, which looms (like the soundtrack from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop) in the background. This is a folk horror that plays out in miniature, rather than paint in big strokes, and while that means a sense of narrative isn’t always satisfyingly clear, the grisly mood of this exploration of trauma lingers on long after the end credits.