Possum has been on my radar for what feels like forever. A creepy little snippet from it played at Frightfest last year, and all of the marketing material released thus far just screams “MOST DISTURBING MOVIE OF THE YEAR” (check out the freaky poster). But how often are these things set up to disappoint us? Well, it brings me great pleasure to advise that, actually, Possum really is as dark as it appears. Maybe even darker.
The reliably brilliant Sean Harris, whom U.S. audiences will likely know as the bad guy from the two most recent Mission: Impossible films, is Philip, a disgraced puppeteer who returns to his dilapidated childhood home to dispose of the titular puppet. Only, when he gets there, Philip realises that his beloved Possum won’t go away so easily.
That’s pretty much it. For most of the film’s run-time, it’s just Harris onscreen, usually accompanied by his terrifying puppet, which is left almost completely unseen. Occasionally, Alun Armstrong’s Maurice pops up to tussle with him — writer-director Matthew Holness has admitted that his character does actually exist but, since fans have been wondering whether he really does, Holness is going to run with that more exciting assumption now.
Theirs is an odd relationship, symptomatic of Possum‘s overarching feelings of dread and unease. There’s a sense something terrible happened between them. From the film’s opening moments, which find Harris reciting a horrifying poem in that incredible voice of his, making his presence known before he even appears onscreen, there’s an eerie sense that something is very wrong here.
Something is off about this house, this world that seems so similar to our own and yet clearly exists in some kind of nightmare realm. Possum is pure nightmare fuel from the outset, meaning Holness’s decision to not show the event that ended Philip’s career is totally understandable — it’s not necessary to show anything when the overriding feeling is of pure, inescapable blackness.
Even the rain is black here, while cinematographer Kit Fraser (who also photographed the sublime Under The Shadow) works exclusively in a murky pallette of dark blues, greys, and browns. Philip’s world is hopeless and isolated. His battles are mostly in his own mind, but they play out in bizarre visions, the meaning of which Holness leaves unclear.
Harris manages to be equal parts empathetic and horrible in the role. It’s a difficult part, and he inhabits it completely, his weird stature, facial expressions, and deep baritone perfectly suited to Philip’s innate oddness. For those who know him purely from Mission: Impossible, it’ll be a major shock to the system.
Speaking of shocks, Holness wisely holds back the full reveal of Possum for as long as possible. This monstrosity (“You showed that to kids!?” quips Maurice at one point), with a head modelled on Harris’s own and a collection of spindly spider legs spilling out from underneath, is completely terrifying. It’s genuinely horrible, the product of a dark and disturbed mind. Every time it pops up, even a little bit, you just want it to go away again.
Possum is the feature debut of Holness, a writer, actor, director, and the creator and titular character in cult Brit TV series Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. He’s been careful to note that there is no levity in this film, but just how dark it is cannot be overstated. It’s easily the darkest, most disturbing horror movie of the year thus far bar none (Hereditary had more laughs — seriously).
Possum will crawl under your skin and lay eggs. It will set up camp in a dark corner of your mind and linger there, its many legs hanging ominously in wait to pounce. It’s shiver-inducing, claustrophobic, hauntingly brilliant nightmare fuel, powered by an engagingly disturbing central performance from Sean Harris. It must be experienced in all its horrifying glory, but beware its dark delights.
WICKED RATING: 9/10
Director(s): Matthew Holness
Writer(s): Matthew Holness
Stars: Sean Harris, Alun Armstrong, Simon Bubb, Andy Blithe
Release date: TBC (U.S.), 26 October 2018 (U.K.)
Studio/ Production Co: BFI Film Fund
Length: 85 minutes