By midlandsmovies, Feb 18 2019 09:32PM
Possum (2018) Dir. Matthew Holness
As a huge fan of the director’s comedy alter-ego Garth Marenghi, an inspired riff on Stephen King mixed with Alan Partridge of sorts, the humorous Holness has moved away from horror laughs into darker territory with his debut film Possum.
Expanded from his own short story published in horror anthology The New Uncanny: Tales of Unease (which sounds hugely like a Garth Marenghi compendium novel itself), Holness delivers a dark tale of psychological trauma. Sean Harris plays a puppeteer who returns to the home he grew up in and is forced to confront repressed memories from his childhood.
The film’s visual style was apparently inspired by British public information films and the opening is a spot-on homage to the matter-of-fact grimness of those short adverts – which scared children and adults alike. As the story starts with the man facing his stepfather and their unsaid secrets, Harris’ character Phillip is haunted by a spider-like marionette called Possum and his mental stability is tested throughout as he deals with its constant presence.
Early on it’s easy to guess what the puppet represents, and the arrival of Alun Armstrong’s disgustingly good stepfather will almost certainly confirm these suspicions for most audiences. Holness however has also said he was influenced by the tone of silent horrors, but with the film’s snail-pace , it could really do with a big shot of dialogue.
Despite the over-reliance of mood over speech, the score is fantastic though, with an experimental soundtrack provided by The Radiophonic Workshop. It’s most effective during a sequence in a disused building where the eight-legged entity stalks our protagonist, yet the film was crying out for more scenes like this one.
Having played with horror clichés and genre tropes/structure with his Marenghi character, Holness ditches them all in Possum but unfortunately this has the effect of creating somewhat of a form-less mess. So serious and surreal as to be unengaging this is one for fans of unconventional horror but would be too sparse for many audiences.
It’s weird how a film with great actors (Harris & Armstrong are superb but almost the only characters), superbly unsettling score, a horrific monster and a great design aesthetic are all undone with an incredibly slow, and ultimately unfulfilling pace. Possum has all the right ingredients but simply undercooks the whole thing. It’s like putting eggs, flour and milk in a bowl and shoving them in the toaster for 6 hours hoping to get a tasty cake.
Holness himself has said the film should “force the audience to reflect upon the experience afterward” but the experience here is such an arduous and mostly unenjoyable one you’ll probably won’t want to recall much of it again at all. Bring on Skipper the Eye-Child 2 please.