Review of Possum over at Flickering Myth…
A memorable, surprising and darkly disturbing feature debut from Matthew Holness…
Anyone expecting any sort of light relief from Matthew Holness’s debut feature will be sorely disappointed. The writer director, best known for his comedic parody work on cult-comedy masterpieces Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace and Man-to-Man with Dean Learner, takes a step into full-on bleakness with Possum, the deeply disturbing story of a man forced to deal with long buried memories.
Focusing on the travails of Philip (Sean Harris), a children’s puppeteer forced to return to his quiet Norfolk childhood home after something awful happened at work, the film is an abstract rumination on suppressed memory and the pain of dealing with abuse. Possum refers to the hideous spidery puppet Philip keeps hidden away in a brown leather bag. He is intent on destroying Possum, but is forced to confront his sinister stepfather Maurice (Alun Armstrong). The old man is an unsettling presence never far away, either in the home or in the back garden, where the flames of a fire can do little to quieten the intensity of the puppet’s malevolent power.
Holness brings his detailed knowledge of and affection for vintage British cult programming and film-making to the fore on this journey of dread and painful confrontation. A fantastically realised soundtrack composed by the legendary sound studio The Radiophonic Workshop layers on the creepy, weird effects, and helps to hark back to partly remembered cult-classic TV and films.
It is in the long shots of the East Anglian countryside that that the film finds its true visual sense. There are shots of our lead wandering along paths and bridges that recall 1970’s public information films – the kind of Government ads that often followed a group of kids playing near a construction site, a railway or a body of water. A menacing voice-over would intone of the children’s foolishness in not paying enough attention, and something tragic would then inevitably occur.
There are also whispers of the classic ghost stories of M.R. James and the excellent Christmas Ghost Story BBC adaptations of them. One of those stories, Whistle and I’ll Come to You (filmed in 1968 and 2010), is beautifully invoked in the land and surroundings of the Norfolk location. The loneliness and sense of something monstrous on the horizon is there in hazy day-lit terror for all to see.
Possum has this sort of fear factor running throughout its running time, and Holness has spoken of his desire to create a modern ‘silent’ horror film. Harris’s work brilliantly fits in with this; the display of raw emotion and tortured memories sketching their insidious lines over his face and body language, expressing the pain of an abused child/disturbed adult in full view. As Holness says himself, real life horror is more frightening than any supernatural monster. The monster here is all too real, and Possum expertly works through it, leaving behind a ghostly memory of a tragic story beautifully told.