POSSUM **** UK 2018 Dir: Matthew Holness. 85 mins
Hitherto best known for his hilarious yet affectionate TV horror parody GARTH MARENGHI’S DARK PLACE (2004), Matthew Holness makes his feature writing-directing debut with a deliberately paced, harrowing study of mental illness that immerses us in the miserable life of middle-aged, grim-faced social outcast Sean Harris. Clad in a beige raincoat and carrying a brown leather bag containing the eponymous “Possum”, he returns to his family home after a puppeteering performance alluded to as a “disgrace”.
Harris plans to destroy “Possum”, though his stepfather (Alun Armstrong), living alone at his decrepit homestead, reminds him that puppeteering is the only thing he has ever been good at. Meanwhile, local school children are missing and the only thing of significance anyone in the wider world has to say to him is a jeering yell of “Pervert!”. Holness captures a suitably oppressive backdrop for his perpetually haunted protagonist: suitably overcast, sparsely populated Norfolk fenland locations combine with a family home dominated by mould, faded 1970’s carpets / wallpaper, broken furniture and scuttling insects. Appearing in every scene and losing himself in the role of this terminally scarred character, Harris says very little but conveys a lifetime of misery, while Armstrong offers a chilling portrait of cruel parenthood. Their terse interactions pay off with a distressing climactic confrontation in a film that refuses to offer any reprieve from the suffocating sense of hopelessness. The ambience is enhanced further by The Radiophonic Workshop’s atonal, abrasive score and the fleeting, nightmare-inducing appearances of “Possum” itself, resembling an unused prop from Rob Bottin’s THE THING creature workshop that escaped when no one was looking.
Review by Steven West