A dark psychological thriller starring Sean Harris, Alun Armstrong, and a creepy dummy/puppet that makes occasional appearances, Possum is a slow chiller that starts to turn the screws from the very first scenes and doesn't let up until the very end.
Harris plays Philip, a man who heads back to his childhood home after some incident that has temporarily (?) halted his puppeteer career. Perhaps reflecting his mindset, the house is gloomy and in some disrepair, shaded in greys and nicotine-yellows, and the presence of his stepfather (Armstrong) doesn't seem like a plus. There's another presence too, always another presence, but that doesn't seem to be too good for Philip either.
Written and directed by Matthew Holness, still best known to genre fans for Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, Possum is a stylish and constantly creepy piece of work. Adapted from his own short story, Holness sprinkles in just enough elements to take it to feature length without adding anything that ruins the sense of dread and mystery. There are moments here that will ensure Possum stays in your memory, but no individual scenes steal power away from the overall experience. Holness shows his love and knowledge of genre, as he has done for many years (even when working with the tropes comedically), but it's impressive that he creates such a subtle and shifting nightmarescape, rather than a more obvious bag of horror tricks. Having said that he took influence from public information films that he saw in his youth, as well as some classic movies, Possum is a film just slightly out of phase with our reality. If it had to be pinned down to one location then that would surely be Scarfolk.
The viewing experience here will be more uncomfortable for those who dislike, or are creeped out by, dummies. Although used sparingly, praise must go to whoever came up with that design, and the visual unease is heightened by a cracking, equally unnerving, score.
Harris does a brilliant job in the lead role, but anyone who has seen him in any other role will know what to expect from him. He can always deliver intensity, but here it is mixed in with confusion and vulnerability. Armstrong, although not onscreen for too much of the runtime, does equally good work in his very different role. Both men are written to be alternately potential victims or aggressors, depending on what viewers imagine having happened in their backstories until the truth is finally revealed.
Not a film for the unsuspecting viewer after a bit of mindless entertainment, this is Holness effectively poking at a fractured psyche with a sharp stick, seeing what numbs certain areas and what leads to sudden jolts. The end result is an original and unique bit of British horror, something for genre fans to savour, and I look forward to whatever he does next.
Garth Marenghi's Darkplace is available here.
The short story of Possum is available here.