Look, I’ve seen some nasty films in my time. I’ve seen some fucked-up shit. I’m not trying to dick-measure here, but this idiot watched A Serbian Film (don’t look it up) when it first came out and still hasn’t recovered since. But let me tell you: until I saw Possum, I didn’t know that I could want to recommend and discourage people from seeing the same movie so very much at the same time.
Directed by Matt Holness (of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, so we’re already up to a suitably unsettling start), Possum follows the tale of a disgraced children’s puppeteer (Sean Harris) as he returns to his home and the mysterious man (Alun Armstrong) who has apparently been waiting for him in his murky absence. And I’ll be real with you upfront: if you have issues with films depicting child abuse, check out now, because Possum is decidedly not the movie for you.
To call this a horror film is perhaps not quite the right descriptor – this movie is pure terror, in the classic sense of that word, ever-building dread that never gifts you with anything as benevolent as a release. It drops us into a story that feels like an epilogue to a tale we never actually got to witness, a method that throws you off from the start and leaves you scrambling to catch up for every moment that remains. Everything about this movie is designed to unsettle; from the grubby, familiar setting of the council estate, to Sean Harris’ haunted, monosyllabic performance, to the titular Possum – a giant baby-headed spider puppet who represents something far darker than he seems to. And he’s a fucking giant baby-headed spider puppet, so you already know that’s pretty fucking bleak.
Trauma has been a big part of horror movies for decades, but recently, we’ve seen an uptick in those tales of terror taking on traumatic backstories: Hereditary, Midsommar, Us, to name a few. But none, for my money, have taken on the topic as well as Possum. It’s scant on story and context, and that unsettled, unsettling atmosphere of unknowing feels far more real a capturing of trauma than any other film I’ve seen to date. Following Sean Harris’ character, we’re forced to engage with every little detail of the painful way he is forced to move through the world just to make the remotest sense of what is going on. Like him, we’re not allowed to disengage from any of it. And then makes for a brilliant, often brutal, cinematic experience. I haven’t had a drink in nearly two years, and I was about eight seconds from heading down the local for a double when this was done with.
Possum is one of the most decidedly fucked-up and utterly brilliant horror films I’ve ever seen. It’s effective conveyance of the horror of trauma is so potent that I’d have a hard time actually suggesting people watch it, because inflicting such a visceral experience of something so unpleasant on them just doesn’t seem fair. But it’s also a truly amazing movie, and, if you can take the weight of it, one of the most memorable and profound pieces of cinema I’ve seen in years.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Variety)