“Can you spy him, deep within? Little Possum, black as sin.”
Disturbing psychological drama Possum starts with promise: disgraced children’s puppeteer Philip (Sean Harris) returns home with the intention of destroying his hideous puppet, while confronting the traumas of his past and his unpleasant Uncle (Alun Armstrong).
The simple horrors of the first act are enough to send a chill down your spine and stifle any yawns the slow pacing could entail. The atmosphere is thick with mystery and unease, the countryside location is moody and desolate, and the main character is gloomy and strange.
The main talking point is the psychological horror; a result from the title character – Possum. This creepy puppet with horribly authentic, hairy arachnid legs is the stuff of nightmares. Its limbs induce terror just at the sight of them, and anyone with arachnophobia is going to struggle throughout the runtime once this monstrous puppet stirs from its hidey place. Carried around in leather bag, almost at arm’s length by Philip, the legs attach to an unnerving white skull. Through hallucinatory sequences, no doubt a result of the protagonist’s traumatic childhood, we get flickers of this monster in action, stalking in eerie silence, combing surfaces with its grim appendages. These images are menacing, and you can’t praise the puppet design enough for what they instil. Combine these nasty glimpses with an intermittently, softly spoken children’s rhyme that fleshes out the creation and there’s a suitable level of suspense that yearns to be utilised further.
Philip tries to discard his puppet many times on his sullen treks through bleak marsh and bland woodland, but it keeps coming back. Or rather, Philip cannot let it go. As the film progresses, you’ll be forgiven for becoming restless. The sound design and imagery in the first half is excellent, but writer/director Matthew Holness can’t sustain the intrigue once the narrative becomes more serious and important. Possum is clearly a metaphor for the childhood horrors that plague Philip which haunt him with malignant frequency. Yet instead of wrapping the audience with suffocating dread as a conclusion beckons, the plot unravels in a forgettable manner, and the horror is diluted and eventually peters out into a tepid anti-climax.
Possum has some nice ideas, backs them up with some horrifying imagery, but drifts away in a montage of strangeness. The ending implies many dark and depressing events, and a second watch may yield more positive rewards. In a single sitting, however, this psychological drama’s greatest asset is the lifeless black spider depicted on the poster.
Score – 6/10