When it was first announced that Matthew Holness was to be directing a horror film, I was suitably intrigued. Having been a devout follower of the cult of Darkplace for many years (indeed, I believe I am one of few to also remember its follow-up, Man to Man), I found myself pondering how a man best known for ridiculing the genre could indeed create a serious film within the same vein.
But, by golly, does it deliver.
Possum tells the maudlin tale of disgraced puppeteer Philip (Sean Harris) who, after losing his job for terrifying children with his grotesque creation, the eponymous Possum, returns to the dank and dismal home of his uncle Maurice (Alun Armstrong). A series of missing children in the local area seem to lead back to Philip, though as events unravel, with Philip’s sanity forever on edge as he becomes more and more haunted by his Monster, we discover that things are much darker than they first appear.
Sean Harris as the troubled Philip is a sheer wonder to watch, managing to walk a very delicate line between disturbed and disturbing, his interactions both in and around the local school being at once spine-chilling and heart-wrenching. Armstrong, meanwhile, does what he does best, creating a deplorably believable everyday villain. We know from the get-go that something is awry, and yet Armstrong manages to keep us guessing throughout.
The real star, however, is Possum himself. Taking a leaf from Spielberg’s book, Holness keeps the monster in the dark for the larger part of the film, with Armstrong’s hints of “I’d love to see how the legs work” keeping the players in the film guessing just as much as the audience. Unlike Jaws, however, Possum‘s beast does not disappoint, with its final reveal leading to one of the most grotesquely disturbing movie monsters you are likely to come across.
With its bleak sepia and Kubrik-like soundtrack, there are moments when one cannot help but remember moments in which Holness himself parodied such genre staples in the aforementioned Darkplace, but the macabre is harnessed with such aplomb that by the end of the first act, any notes of nostalgic humour have been lost. And all for the best.
In Possum, Holness has proved himself to be a truly ingenious and deeply original storyteller. He has learned from the masters of the medium and has managed to create something never seen before, nor likely to be seen again. Dark, twisted, and at the same time utterly heartbreaking, Possum is an outstanding piece of British horror from a man who truly knows his craft.
Dir: Matthew Holness
Prd: James Cotton, Babak Eftekhari, Wayne Marc Goffrey, James Harris, Robert Jones, Mark Lane
Scr: Matthew Holness
Cast: Sean Harris, Alun Armstrong
DOP: Kit Fraser
Possum is available now on DVD and bluray