With apologies to Fats (Magic), the Clown (Poltergeist), Annabelle (The Conjuring), and Chucky (Child’s Play), but there is a new puppet in town, and Christ almighty it is the most horrifying thing I have seen on a cinema screen in a very long time. Can you spy him deep within? Little Possum. Black as sin.
Written and directed by Matthew Holness, and based on his own short story, Possum is the deeply unsettling story of Philip (Sean Harris) a disgraced children’s puppeteer. He returns to his childhood home, with a brown leather bag containing Possum, his puppet. He has two goals to accomplish: make peace with the past that has haunted him his entire life, and destroy the puppet that is haunting him now.
These tasks are complicated by two things. The first is that living in his house is Maurice (Alum Armstrong), his despicable step-father. The second is that Possum doesn’t want to be destroyed. I don’t want to say much more about the film than that, as I think the less you know going in, the more affecting this film will be. It is very surreal, incredibly dark and disturbing, and full of pure nightmare imagery. I won’t even begin to describe the puppet, and any reviewer who does is doing the film a disservice. It needs to be seen without any forewarning. But I will say this, it is fucking hideous.
Holness has imbued Possum with an aesthetic reminiscent of those horrible, trauma inducing public information films from the 1970s. There’s something about this film that’s so brown, it’s like how much more brown could this be? And the answer is none. None more brown. The film also uses an elliptical style, jumping forwards and backwards, replaying and reordering events, compressing and expanding the narrative, and this further adds to the disjointed and unsettling nature of what is happening.
The film invites comparison with the early suburban horror films of Ben Wheatley, such as Kill List, which I thought of a lot during this, as it was the last film that made me feel as oppressively uncomfortable whilst watching it as Possum did. There’s also a whisper of The Babadook about Possum, not stylistically, but thematically in the way it presents a deeply disturbing coping mechanism for trauma. Because of course, like all good horror films, it is a metaphor for something else.
Matthew Holness has said a few times in the promotion of this film, that it is not a comedy. Do not expect jokes. If you are coming to this because you are a fan of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and Man to Man with Dean Learner, just prepare yourselves, this is full on psychological horror. The kind you watch once, and then never again. Because you don’t have to, as the images conjured here will stay with you forever.