Upon returning to his rundown and seemingly vacant childhood home after many years, Phillip (Sean Harris) attempts to confront his boyhood traumas through the terrifying and mangy secret kept hidden inside of the tote bag that never leaves his side. With his grotesquely abusive uncle Maurice (Alun Armstrong) residing in the abandoned home, Phillip must unlock the closed doors of his past to resurface his traumas and be rid of them once and for all.
Written and directed by Matthew Holness, this beautifully shot on 35mm film brings something new, yet slightly familiar to the psychological genre. Being the writer of one of my favorite parody shows of all-time (Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace), Holness seems to have made an almost effortless transition from comedy to horror, showcasing brilliant suspense and terror drenched in grungy and muted color palettes alongside haunting imagery. Its essence is that of a macabrely written fairytale for children, with even showing some influence to such recent genre classics as The Babadook.
Combining dark imagery, haunting poetry, and a sense of mysterious, lurking dread, POSSUM captures the sullen undertones of a traumatic and ruined childhood that was stripped away at a young age. The character of Phillip is complex and secretive, as his motives and purpose remain unknown throughout most of the film, with Sean Harris capturing these qualities perfectly. As an audience member, your mind will be lead into conflicting thoughts towards whether he has evil or innocent intentions, which is made poignant through Harris’ gloomy and fearful expressions and his childlike awkwardness.
Playing alongside Harris is veteran actor Alun Armstrong, portraying the suspicious and seemingly senile uncle, Maurice. His homeless appearance and tattered clothing makes him come across as gross and almost harmless, but has a dark past and destructive agenda all his own. The two actors combat each other nicely, playing off the other’s fears and powers, leading towards a very shocking and impressive finale.
The eerie spook factor here relies heavily on Phillip’s haunting spider-like puppet, referred to as ‘Possum’ in the poetry recited in Phillip’s book throughout the film’s duration. Containing a human face with pale skin, dead eyes, and gnarly legs that sprout profusely from its body like mangled roots, this puppet stands to symbolize something much deeper than external fear. Without too many spoilers, Phillip’s traumatic past has latched onto his life; taking it with him everywhere he goes. It is a load he must tote around until ready to confront it, with Possum representing that load. No matter how many times he attempts to destroy, burn, or bury it, the puppet always comes back in mint condition and ready to scare the ever loving shit out of you. It is only until Phillip chooses to reactivate the traumatic memories can he be rid of them forever.
With a frightening film like this that uses effective storytelling through symbolic imagery and objects, along with some unsettling sequences to boot, POSSUM offers that and more, all while wrapped in a chilling yet presentable package. It zeros in on the psychological toll that physical abuse can have and how it effects and suppresses the mind, leaving the one’s inflicted feeling helpless and delusional. Be sure to catch it in select theaters and on demand when released on October 26th.