Look at Possum, there he lies
Children, meet his lifeless eyes
See his nasty legs and tongue
When he wakes, watch him run
What is in the bag? A terrifying arachnid. Who is the puppet? The man who belongs to the spider kept in the bag. What is behind the locked door of his childhood home? A lifetime of trauma.
The despondent man, Philip (Sean Harris), returns to his decrepit childhood home as a failed puppeteer. This old home, tortured by grime and neglect, inflicts an immense trauma upon the man. Artifacts of stolen youth hang around as ornaments, monuments to children who never got to be children. An aged Uncle Maurice (Alun Armstrong) is installed within, taking on the horrible characteristics of the home. When he learns of Phillip’s plight, his Uncle merely squawks, “Pity. Puppetry’s the one thing you were good at.” This is a film of only a few performances and so we rely on the sick remnants of a family unit to provide all the dramatics and tension. Sean Harris ably holds the center of the performance, face contorted by constant anxiety and ingrown fear. Alun Armstrong is absolutely menacing and acts like a tarantula about to strike, coaxing prey like he enjoys their missteps for the opportunity to feast on their insecurities.
Set against the withering marshlands of a dispossessed English countryside, Possum (2018) has a distinctly British affectation. Expanded from Director Holness’s own short story, it plays into the newly hot tradition of horror folktales. The damp marshes, beset with an irradiated loneliness, open up a horror playhouse for Holness. He finds maximum interest in the festering discomfort of disuse, reminders of a society that once worked, until something went terribly wrong. A slew of intriguing locations lend themselves to the tone of the piece – empty military bunkers, railway systems, a forest that is supernaturally connected to the Possum.
The Possum is an invention of welcome creativity, a supremely creepy puppet with oversized and hairy spider legs attached to a mannequin that directly resembles Philip. Having recently been fired as a children’s puppeteer, all he wants is to be rid of the puppet. He’ll try drowning it, placing it in the forest, burning it, but he always wakes up with it next to him. It’s constantly creeping out of the bag and moving itself. Tricky little creature. Occasionally, we’re presented with lucid dreamlike sequences where the Possum chases Phillip, skittering slowly around the corner, and all the air is caught in our throat, it’s damn scary stuff.
Babadook-ian in spirit, Possum is concerned directly with the trauma enacted upon as children and the way it is lived out everyday in the life of the victim. In grim broad strokes, it illustrates a complete social failing. The ruinous landscape represents the deterioration of family systems, of culture itself. Horror is the subversive antidote to all that ails us. On-trend, some of the best expositions of this theory are coming from those working in comedy, and Matthew Holness (Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, 2004) is one such example. Make no mistake that those who can parody horror to great effect can also produce it straight.
Possum nestles deep within your skin. It creates a little hive where it crawls around and occasionally goes bump in the night. It’s almost impossible to escape the Possum. Like Phillip, it sticks with you and haunts the psyche. This is another truly effective British horror in what has been a good year, with Ghost Stories (2017) also making a great impression. Our renovation of the folk story is producing incredible results. It’s worth getting tangled up in Possum, do not sleep on this new horror darling, although you may not want to sleep after anyway.