Possum Review

East Anglia. Puppeteer Philip (Sean Harris) returns to his boyhood home, where his parents died in a fire. He wants to get rid of Possum, a disturbing marionette, but it seems to refuse to be thrown away. Philip wonders if Possum is connected with a string of disappearances in the area.

by Kim Newman |
Published on
Release Date:

26 Oct 2018

Original Title:


Though Sean Harris gives a powerful performance in the lead role, the breakout star of writer-director Matthew Holness’ debut feature Possum — and probably of your nightmares after you’ve seen the film — is Possum itself. The cracked head of a baby doll sewn onto the floppy limbs of a gigantic spider, Possum can barely be contained by the duffel bag puppeteer Philip (Harris) lugs to his cheerless, derelict house in unwelcoming countryside. Possum is like a cross between the mutant Toy Story playthings and the denizens of animator Jan Svankmajer’s workshop, but has a malignity all of its own.

Maurice (Alun Armstrong), Philip’s supremely repulsive uncle, says that puppets are the only thing the lad was ever good at, but it’s a stretch to imagine the taciturn, PTSD-suffering, shambling fellow ever working as a children’s entertainer. An early scene on a train demonstrates Philip’s inability to strike up the most trivial of conversations with a young fellow passenger, and that lad’s subsequent disappearance (one of a string which suggest a serial killer at work) hangs heavy over the film as we wonder which of the three suspects (if there are actually three entities in the frame) is responsible.

Sean Harris' intensity is uncomfortably compelling.

It’s also possible the film takes place entirely in Philip’s mind, which would explain not only the hideous puppet’s ability to regenerate after destruction but the way time seems frozen in the 1970s world of slam-door trains and no mobile phones, when Philip’s initial trauma (the fire in which he wishes Maurice rather than his parents died) happened.

Currently known as the villain of the last two Mission: Impossible films, Harris has lurched unsettlingly for years as one of British cinema’s most reliable offbeat character actors. Here, taking a few cues from Ralph Fiennes in Spider, he has little coherent to say for himself — but his intensity is uncomfortably compelling. In a few seamy scenes, he is matched by veteran Armstrong, who looks as if he’s still not got over the beating he took in Get Carter in 1971.

If there’s a problem with the film, it’s that it’s locked in its own cyclical story. We’re with someone who can’t escape a personal trap, and repetitions eventually take the edge off the horror. Though not a long movie, it sometimes feels like a short stretched to feature length. Holness is known for the deadpan hilarity of the TV horror spoof Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace TV show, but here plays it dead straight. He uses retro elements — the locations seen in those 1970s Ghost Stories For Christmas, music from the BBC’s long-since shuttered Radiophonic Workshop — to augment the mood, embedding Possum in the earthy, sinister British film/TV folk horror tradition.

A disturbing, curiously beautiful British horror exercise. Recommended, but with a warning: next time you wake up in the middle of the night, you’ll find Possum at the end of the bed.
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