By MADELEINE KOESTNER
Starring Sean Harris, Alun Armstrong and Simon Bubb
Written and directed by Matthew Holness
Dark Sky Films
Matthew Holness’ POSSUM (which played this month’s Brooklyn Horror Film Festival and comes to select theaters and VOD this Friday from Dark Sky Films) opens by introducing us to Philip (Sean Harris), a tormented puppeteer, and the suitcase containing his latest puppet—an arachnid creature whose name gives the movie its moniker. He returns to his childhood home in Norfolk, where his off-putting and obnoxious stepfather Maurice (Alun Armstrong) lives. From here, the film takes a surreal deep dive into Philip’s tortured psyche as he is haunted by the nightmarish Possum, which he would very much like to rid himself of.
Some may already know actor-turned-director Holness from his turn in the title role of the British TV horror/comedy cult favorite GARTH MARENGHI’S DARKPLACE. As a big fan of the show, I wasn’t sure what to expect going into POSSUM. Would it be a quirky black comedy like the series I’d seen him star in? All I can say is, I was not expecting what POSSUM does deliver. This is a true horror film, devoted to ratcheting up discomfort and a feeling of dread. And it’s stunning that this is a first feature, as Holness’ voice and messages come across loud and clear via his visual storytelling and the daring themes he explores.
POSSUM is a grim, distressing film. Holness and his collaborators are less concerned with crafting a narrative than they are with conveying an experience—in particular, the feeling of what it’s like to live with trauma. Yet amongst the eerie visuals and anxiety-inducing scenes, there’s a lot happening and building to clue you in to what you are watching and why it’s happening—and it all pays off.
Philip, as portrayed in an intense, committed performance by talented character actor Harris (A LONELY PLACE TO DIE, PROMETHEUS, DELIVER US FROM EVIL), has been stranded in a childlike state well into adulthood. It is visible in his posture and his inability to control his emotions. Maurice’s aging, uncleaned house disgusts him, yet the grimy dwelling is like a reflection of the inside of his skull. The Possum puppet is thoroughly creepy, seeming only partially formed and presented in such a way that I felt deeply uncomfortable every time it appeared on screen. And the movie, shot by DP Kit Fraser and production-designed by Charlotte Pearson, has a marvelous look; it’s thoroughly refreshing to see a new horror film shot on 35mm, with attention paid to the grain and density of the image.
As it is receiving limited big-screen play, I highly encourage anyone with the ability to do so to see POSSUM in a theater. I walked out of the Brooklyn screening upset and shaken, and have thought about it quite a bit since. That’s appropriate given one of the film’s key themes: Some things are hard to get rid of.