Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Possum: The Puppet Pulls the Strings

Puppets are always bad news in horror movies—really bad. Not quite as sinister as ventriloquist dummies, but just as creepy as dolls. This titular character is one of the worst. One profoundly damaged puppeteer is forced to lug him around, even though he is terrified of what the spider-like thing might do in Matthew Holness’s Possum (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Philip is coming home to rural Norfolk, but he does not look to happy about it. He does not have happy memories of his childhood in this standoffish village, but the shy, hulking brute really does not have any happy memories, from anywhere. The details are mysterious, but viewers quickly deduce Philip has returned under a vague cloud of disgrace. His dingy boyhood home will not exactly cheer him up, especially since he must still share it with his casually cruel step-father, Morris—and that whatever-it-is in his leather satchel.

It is hard to say whether Possum is an arachnid version of Chucky or some kind of psychological projection. Either way, Philip just can’t ditch it/him, not matter how hard he tries. Regardless of its true nature, Morris takes sadistic glee in needling Philip over his deference to it. Alas, Possum may have implicated Philip in the presumed abduction of a local teen while he was in a dissociative state—as he has perhaps done before, which might partially explain the puppeteer’s pariah status.

The look and vibe of Possum are absolutely overpowering. Frankly, there are not a lot of jump scares or even discrete precipitating moments in the film. It is more like a prolonged feeling of dread. Rather than Friday the 13th and Halloween, Possum shares a kinship with Lynch’s Eraserhead and Beckett’s Film. It is impressive filmmaking, but maybe not so wildly fun to be immersed in.

Regardless, Sean Harris and Alun Armstrong are remarkably good together in this near two-hander. It is downright painful watching Harris, because he makes it so vividly and viscerally clear what an open wound Philip’s psyche truly is. In contrast, Armstrong’s sly Maurice could be a Dickensian villain, if he were not so tacky and gross.

This is one grim, messed up film, but you have to give Holness credit for so thoroughly realizing his vision. There is no question he takes us all the way down the rabbit hole. Recommended for adventurous viewers who appreciate high-end horror, Possum opens this Friday (11/2) in New York, at the Cinema Village.