Let’s play with puppets.
You might not have heard of Possum (I came upon it by chance), and that is a shame because this is one of the best films of the year. Independent, thoughtful, and challenging horror proves its worth once again.
Possum follows Phillip, (Sean Harris) a disgraced puppeteer who is returning to his decrepit childhood home where his cruel uncle Maurice (Alun Armstrong) currently lives. Along with Phillip is a horrific spider puppet that he wishes to destroy.
The film is bleak, and I mean that in every sense of the word. The house itself is destitute, filthy, and dark. Phillip wanders the countryside in misery—often on the brink of tears, and appears to be moments away from a complete emotional collapse. The spider puppet (named Possum) haunts his dreams, and he hallucinates the creature stalking him. We know that Phillip is troubled, but we don’t know why.
Trauma and shame are central themes of the film. Phillip is fired (or at least laid off) his previous job due to a scandal that is never explained. He is called “that pervert” by a couple young men who see him walking, but we aren’t given any details as to what happened.
The story is fragmented, repetitive, and ritualistic. Phillip is attempting to destroy Possum, which is an obvious stand in for an awful experience. We learn that he was horrifically bullied before, and his psyche is severely damaged. Maurice exacerbates whatever Phillip is going through, sometimes intentionally, but other times it seems that their relationship is simply wounded.
The film quality is beautifully ugly. Fantastic acting, music, sound, lighting, and design. When we finally get to see Possum it is actually a disturbing puppet. It doesn’t look like something manufactured to be cool, but rather something made by a damaged soul. The authenticity of the presentation of trauma in this film makes it worth seeing alone. Add in all of the creepy atmosphere and haunting imagery and you have a winner.
I don’t often talk about endings, but I want to with this film. Spoilers are ahead. If you are a horror fan, you owe it to yourself to watch this film.
Seriously, spoilers ahead.
It might be predictable that Maurice is the inspiration for Possum, but the way the film portrays this abusive relationship is chilling. Maurice is a prick (a monster really), but his cruelty is not uniform. He ranges from being kind to Phillip to being wicked. I think this balance is important because so often we see one side of people and think “Oh, old Maurice couldn’t do that.” By showing a human side of Maurice we get a more frightening story of abuse.
The power the abuser holds over the victim is also well done here. During the disturbing finale where we learn that Maurice’s probing fingers are the inspiration for the long spider-legs Phillip is almost paralyzed with fear. Despite Maurice being nearly infirm, Phillip cannot act until he realizes the missing boy is also captive in a box.
Trauma and madness have a clear link in this film, and I think movies that face these issues with a serious hand are important. This one reminds me a little of Darling that came out a couple years ago (and is absolutely worth a watch). I think Possum is a well made film that will sneak into your head. Overall, an excellent story.