An independent film that feels near flawless in its simple but heartbreaking execution, “Possum” is an understated but affecting work of art.
Many times, when reviewing independent movies, you learn to give leniency on elements that may be lacking due to budgetary constraints rather than a fault in the filmmaking.
This leads to most films earning some comment of, “If they only had a little more, then they would have been able to do more (better acting, better locations, better effects, better storytelling devices, etc.) and really flourish.” There’s a prevalent way of thinking that, if independent films were not limited by lack of money, we’d get a much better representation of what a filmmaker is trying to accomplish.
In the case of Possum, from writer, director, and dream weaver, Matthew Holness, I can easily say it feels like the best possible execution based on what the film tries to accomplish.
Is it perfect? No. But Holness creates something that would not work any other way, or with any extra spending cash. And it is beautifully devastating.
Possum is about a disgraced puppeteer, Philip (Sean Harris), who is forced to return home and live with his abusive uncle (Alun Armstrong). However, when a boy disappears, coinciding with Philip’s return, he becomes the prime suspect. This leads him on a journey of confronting his childhood trauma, trying to hide any evidence that may be linked to him, and attempting to rid himself of a terrifying spider-like marionette called Possum.
The film isn’t necessarily scary or violent, but it is creepy and haunting in a way that only British and Japanese horror seem to be able to accomplish.
Everything is damp and grimy, which sets the atmosphere for the bleak tale we are witnessing.
While most of it revolves around following Philip over the course of several days attempting to escape his past, the “plot” of the missing boy almost becomes an afterthought to his trauma.
Sean Harris is phenomenal in this role, easily one of the strongest horror performances of the 2010s. That’s a relief considering how much of the film revolves around him and how much screen time he receives. Harris plays the role in such a way that creates so much pity and empathy for this character, even though he is an unreliable narrator.
Most movies of this nature would spend time having the protagonist trying to either prove their innocence or cover up their crime. Either way, there is typically a certainty involved; we know whether or not the character is guilty of what they are accused of doing.
In this case, however, neither Philip nor the audience by extension is certain whether he committed the horrible crime. It becomes heartbreaking watching this troubled man willingly accepting his guilt, even though he is unsure of it, simply biding time until he is caught in his never-ending attempt to free himself from his terrible creation.
Unfortunately, for many horror fans — especially in the states — Possum is not going to be an easy sell, as it is a slow burn with little substantial payoff.
There isn’t much in terms of “plot” (in the traditional sense). Instead, it is a character study; a therapeutic exercise in dealing with trauma and/or depression.
To me, it is a brilliant film and one that has stayed with me since the first time I watched it — which is saying plenty in this day and age when we are overwhelmed with the amount of content available to consume.
Holness has become a prime example of how some of the most dread-filled stories lately have come from those with a comedy background, rather than the horror-only directors.