A dream movie, an endless nightmare with repeating events and frightening images that can only be broken by waking up – this is how the first feature film by British actor, screenwriter, and director Matthew Holness, best known as one of the creators of comedy series “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace,” can be most accurately described. The protagonist of “Possum” is an odd-looking older man named Philip, who one day picks up a light brown bag with unknown contents and takes the train to Norfolk. On leaving the train station, Philip went to the house where he once lived with his parents. It is now inhabited by one Maurice, a nasty man with yellow teeth, whom the protagonist calls an uncle.
Later it turns out that Phil carries in his bag a creepy marionette doll, which looks like a giant spider’s paws and a human death mask stitched together, and he brought it to Norfolk in order to destroy it. The strangeness and mysteries do not end there: the TV news constantly repeats about a teenager who disappeared the other day, a man in a raincoat, very much like Philip; a fox periodically runs up to the house; in one of the rooms, the character finds a children’s book with poems about an evil possum that will come in black balloons and turn everything into pain, decay and hopelessness.
Fans of linear stories, dynamic plots, straightforwardness, transparency, and banal horrors with screamers and pools of blood should definitely not take up watching “Possum,” in which only what is clear is that nothing is clear. The hour-and-a-half film is a bloated short film in the spirit of early Lynch or Cronenberg with a set of single-issue scenes, an extremely limited number of images, and visual refrains.
You can neither find out the details of the protagonist’s background nor get the answers to the questions that arise while watching the film, nor even understand why the film is called “Possum” even though the only animals in it are spiders, beetle, and fox. You must be ready for that if you really want to get acquainted with the picture more closely for some reason. In some places, what is happening on the screen is reminiscent of the prose of Kafka or Beckett with their love for the absurd and the demonstration of the little man, cornered and no longer able to confront this world, actively transforming into something monstrous and frightening.
Well, now, a little bit about what should have been discussed at the beginning. Title. With no watch, many people have translated it as “Opossum,” and in fact, Americans, for example, use the same word for opossums and possums, even though they’re different animals. However, this story isn’t about animals, and it’s not about Americans either. In Latin, possum means “to be able,” “can,” and “to have influence.” Well, the nightmarish creature Philip calls Possum clearly has influence over him. Perhaps this is what Holness meant. Maybe not.
“Possum” avoids words, and it certainly hasn’t become a new word in the genre itself. Instead, on the contrary, it is something very old, unsettling, still vaguely familiar but largely forgotten. It’s a hazy memory of what horror used to be and what it probably should have been.
It is certainly possible to interpret Holness’ creation at least somewhat. It is not a set of pictures and quite incoherent scenes, but it is necessary to do it not from the position of the intellect but from the point of sensual perception. All those emotions the viewer experiences while watching it, namely fear, confusion, incomprehension, and anxiety, also fill the main character. In fact, they are all that he is made of as a person. The puppeteer Philip is as much a marionette as the spider doll he created. This is repeatedly emphasized even in the character’s appearance: he seems to be hung from a nail in the neck area, and his body is constantly in a hovering position, his arms dangling, the corners of his lips down. His “puppeteer” was obviously once Maurice, always asking uncomfortable questions, reminding him of traumas from the past (in the middle of the picture, it turns out that Philip’s parents died in a fire) and considering him a “naughty boy,” although the man has long since crossed the forty-year mark. It can be assumed that Maurice has abused Philip for years, both physically and psychologically – which is why from time to time, the latter hears scraps of TV news about the kidnapped boy with whom the hapless British puppeteer associates himself.
Also, as we watch it, there is every reason to believe that Maurice no longer exists in reality. He is alive only in Philip’s memories, revived with renewed vigor after his return to his paternal home, where he had once experienced an absolute nightmare.
“Possum” is a picture about fear and violence, about the fact that, for a long time carrying around all the suffering, nightmares, and worries, even once gathering the strength to destroy them, in the end, first, we may not find the root cause, fighting only with the consequences. Second, we have all chance not to feel better simply because we are used to the state of the terrified victim and cannot imagine another life. Time after time, the character of the film returns to the moment when he picks up or opens the bag with the puppet spider, which is the physical embodiment of the horrors he has experienced. Over and over, he tries to get rid of the doll, drowns it, and burns it, but when he opens his eyes in the morning, he sees it in the room again. All of this vividly portrays the condition of the man who has been living with a painful psychological trauma for years.
If you are interested and not repulsed by the above, you are the viewer for whom such pictures are made, which cannot boast of a logical plot but are captivating in terms of the atmosphere of madness and acting.