It’s often said you can’t go home again, but sometimes it is more true to say that you shouldn’t; for Philip Connell, Fallmarsh in Norfolk has nothing but bad memories but there is nowhere else for him to go, conveyed by old Intercity rolling stock to a town better forgotten, to the street one broken paving slab from being condemned and knocked down where his stepfather Maurice still lives.
Carrying a brown leather holdall, within Philip keeps the surreal nightmare of the black long-legged Possum-man, a monstrous totem of his own creation which haunts him, a sinister chimera of head too-human and body too-alien which he wishes to be rid of, yet without it he is like a puppet with the strings cut, drawing him back and punishing him for his attempted betrayal.
The walls stained by cigarette smoke, the house reeking of dinginess and decay, beneath the floorboards Philip keeps the secrets of his life before it all ended with birthday balloons smothered in black smoke, the things he does not speak of which tie his terrible past to the present as the television newsreader calmly announces that a local schoolchild has been reported missing…
With its world premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Possum is the feature debut of director Matthew Holness, the writer and performer best known for Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace who has taken the downbeat, retro ethic of that cult hit and distilled it to the purest essence of dread then impregnated it into the mouldy fabric of a second hand lounge suite the seventies forgot.
Sean Harris is Philip, inflicted with a permanent scowl and with the physical presence of a strangled chicken, a broken lifetime away from the confident agent of chaos of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation or the possessed mania of Deliver Us From Evil, light years distant from the shock-haired tattooed arrogance of Prometheus.
The film played primarily as a two-hander, trapped with him and sharing his misery is Penny Dreadful‘s Alun Armstrong, filthy, taunting, unsympathetic and cruel as Maurice, but beyond the lurking presence of the Possum-man in a film about puppets anything can be imbued with character, faces glimpsed in wallpaper and light-switches, even the angle of an askew lampshade suggesting malign intent.
Philip smoking roll-up cigarettes as he hangs about the swing park as young mothers push their prams past, Possum is a public information film throwback extended to hideous feature length, a cautionary tale not to talk to strangers filmed just down the road from Scarfolk with a soundtrack by the legendary Radiophonic Workshop amplifying the oscillating menace.
With the animated opening titles and typeface conveying the era from which it draws its dark power, Possum is a powerful psychological horror without respite from the dark places under the trees where things squelch underfoot to the trauma of a childhood which Philip has never escaped, tracking him as surely as the black jointed legs of the Possum-man.
Possum is playing the festival circuit prior to release towards the end of the year