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Dark Sky Films
DVD Released: 2/12/2019
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/12/2019
When you ask people who don’t like horror movies (and trust me, there are a lot of them out there) to expand on their dislike for the genre, you’ll usually get responses like “I don’t like all of that blood.” or “I hate to see people get killed.” These narrow-minded answers clearly focus on a broad view of the genre and don’t take into consideration the more subtle examples of scary movies. There is a world of horror films out there which skew closer to arthouse films and rely on strong visuals and detailed characters to achieve a response from the viewers as opposed to going for a simple hack ‘n slash approach. Possum appears to have the chops to become a premiere example of this sort of film. Does it make the cut?
Philip (Sean Harris) is a sad-sack of a man who arrives at a ramshackle house. A professional puppeteer, he has apparently suffered a professional setback and has retreated to this derelict dwelling. Maurice (Alun Armstrong) lives in the house. He and Philip clearly know one another, and Maurice is verbally abusive to the younger man. As if Philip weren’t awkward enough, he always has a satchel with him which contains a truly bizarre puppet which looks like a human head that has sprouted spider legs. As we watch Philip wander the countryside acting very suspicious, we hear news reports which concern a missing teenager. Has Philip’s strange behavior lead him to do something terrible?
Possum comes from Writer/Director Matthew Holness, who is best known in the United States for 2004’s Garth Marenghi's Darkplace. He has spent most of his career writing comedies, and he’s now turned his attention to horror. And, at the outset, he seems to have a knack for it. There is a genuine sense of dread in the film, as the black and white photography and the desolate landscapes create feelings of isolation and doom. This is also a very quiet movie, and even the dialogue scenes have a specific clipped sensation. In short, there’s a certain David Lynch vibe to the movie. Sean Harris gives a distinct “sad sack” performance and we immediately distrust him, which, again, turns the film on its side. However, the true star of the show here is the puppet. In the first act, all that we see are the legs, typically as they spill out of the bag when Philip always has with him. However, there are a few scenes in which Philip imagines (?) the puppet moving on its own and the spidery legs are incredibly creepy. (With the spider legs and human head, the puppet looks like something from John Carpenter’s The Thing. In an odd twist, we never get to see the puppet used as a puppet.)
Unfortunately, the tension wanes as the film progresses. During the second and third acts, several things begin to go wrong. First of all, the movie becomes annoyingly redundant. As noted above, Philip always has his bag with him, but he reaches a point where he decides to get rid of it. So, we are treated to scene-after-scene of Philip walking around and tossing the bag into various bodies of water. Secondly, as we get to see more and more of the puppet, it loses its mystique. What was once creepy just becomes a weird prop. Thirdly, the scenes between Philip and Maurice go nowhere. We do learn some information about Philip’s past, but it doesn’t add up to much. Finally, we have the film’s ending. The movie ends with a twist which is so sudden and matter of fact that it’s jarring…and not in a good way. I couldn’t help buy wonder if Holness viewed the finale as a joke, as it has a certain Monty Python feel to it.
The only thing worse than a bad movie is a disappointing movie. The first act of Possum is truly gripping, and, again, those shots of the spider legs creeping around corners are chilling. But, the movie quickly runs out of steam and even at 85-minutes, it feels like it would have been better served as a short film. It truly sags as a sum of its parts, as the movie has a good look, the puppet stands out, and the acting feels real. But, what should have been an Eraserhead-like nightmare, simply turns into a redundant project which never fulfills the promise of the DVD cover art.
Possum also never explains what that corpse-like thing in Philip’s bed was on DVD courtesy of Dark Sky Films. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. There is a distinct crispness to the black and white photography and the black tones look realistic. The level of detail is good and the picture has a nice depth to it. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As noted above, there are a lot of quiet moments in the film, but we do get some effective stereo and surround effects, most notably those which showcase odd sounds coming from off-screen.
The Possum DVD contains a small assortment of extras. We get “Interviews” with Writer/Director Matthew Holness, Actor Sean Harris, Actor Alan Armstrong, and Producer James Harris. This run for a total of 57 minutes, or they can be watched individually. These talks touch on several facets of the film, including the story, the casting, and the production. “Behind the Scenes” (11 minutes) takes us on set for a reel of “fly on the wall” footage which shows Holness working with Harris, as several key scenes are shot. The final extra is a TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2019 by Mike Long