Possum is not particularly scary, but its portrait of a ruined life and horror of psychological trauma will haunt viewers well after the cut to black – much like a white-faced, spider-like puppet with a mind of its own
The twisted mind behind Garth Marenghi's Darkplace delivers a taut psychological horror thrill-ride that quietly unsettles before it explodes. The film burns with dread – amped to unbearable levels by unchronological smash cuts and a hypnotic score from the Radiophonic Workshop; the latter’s unwavering rhythm and never-resolving tonalities deserve special mention in creating this chilling, claustrophobic atmosphere across the expansive Norfolk broads. Possum only reaches breaking point in its final five minutes, luxuriating in this mood as it follows Philip (Sean Harris) as a deeply distressed failed puppeteer who moves back in with his abusive stepfather.
Echoes of The Babadook are evident in Possum’s set-up, hinging on a fraught two-person family and a children’s book/creation that causes terror and mayhem. However, Possum eschews the former’s frenetic terror for an equally effective, if quieter, probing into its abyss. Holness’s desire to make a modern silent film palpably, almost perfectly translates the overwhelming oppression of one’s inability to face his past or his emotions.
While the film’s concept and construction are more than serviceable, the tour-de-force performance at its heart is the true standout. Harris is unrecognisable from his recent Mission Impossible hacker villain: his Philip is a shell of a man, eaten by a trauma that unfolds through flashbacks and the sparsest dialogue. However, even without this explanation the deep tragedy would be evident; Harris commits body and soul to Phillip’s agonising emotional scars to the point that any words spoken feel superfluous. While Possum lacks Hereditary’s higher profile, Harris joins Toni Collette as one of the horror genre’s masterful – and unjustly overlooked – recent performances.
Possum is not particularly scary, but its portrait of a ruined life and horror of psychological trauma will haunt viewers well after the cut to black – as will Philip's white-faced, spider-like puppet with a mind of its own.