Rating: Not Rated
Director: Matthew Holness
Starring: Sean Harris, Alun Armstrong, Simon Bubb
Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes
What It Is: Based on Holness’ own short story, this is a horror movie about suffering from a trauma that both uses its genre conceits as a metaphor and in a more obvious manner of which Garth Marenghi would be proud. Sean Harris stars, and appears in nearly every single scene as Philip, a disgraced former puppeteer who carries around a bag containing Possum: a spectacularly frightening spider puppet, often accompanied by ominous black balloons. The film follows Philip’s attempts to rid himself of Possum – inevitably, standing in for his childhood trauma – and gets more upsetting from there.
What We Think: A dread-filled psychological horror movie might not seem a natural fit for Holness, best-known for his comedy work, but this delivers a startlingly complete vision. The looping, rhythmic storyline mostly serves as a structure from which to hang misery, and boy does it. Holness’ spare, Pinteresque dialogue creates vast aural voids that fill up with loneliness, often plunging into the realm of surrealism.
Philip’s trauma and depression is at the core of the film and every department helps to evoke it. Cinematographer Kit Fraser, frequently places Philip in darkness, making the most of Harris’ pale, gaunt face. Oppressive soundscapes were absolutely terrifying (courtesy of the legendary Radiophonic Workshop) and unpredictable editing help create the uneasy feeling that something’s always lurking just around the corner.
As you might expect, Harris plays a significant part in the film’s success. Though his face often fills the frame, twisted into looks of dread or abject fear, his unique performance is exceptionally physical. Continually leaning forward, hands held defensively in front of him, his feet struggling to keep up with his forward momentum as he walks, he truly evokes the image of a frightened, misplaced schoolboy grown to adult size. His Philip is a faltering, glum loser – but those qualities weren’t born, but made. Possum is a metaphor for Philip’s childhood trauma – but Philip also literally carries him around with him, just as those who’ve been traumatized do. Philip spends the entirety of the movie trying to get rid of that trauma – whether by burning Possum, throwing him in a marsh or through other means – but his puppet (or is it the puppeteer?) always comes back. It’s a little on the nose, sure – but god damn, that puppet is terrifying. That Possum doesn’t just return to Philip’s house, but his room and sometimes even his bed, speaks to the way that sometimes, our mental health issues can burrow so deep, they become familiar and comfortable.
Our Grade: B+, In this debut feature, Holness has delivered a clear and horrifying vision – a simple but overwhelmingly frightening horror story, wrapped in the atmosphere so thick you could drown in it. But ultimately this has to stand or fall on its own merits, and at heart is a serious and dark journey into the labyrinths of cruelty and abuse. It’s hard to wholeheartedly recommend it as this is a slow burner with little pay off however it’s worth it just for the strangeness and the absolutely superb acting of the two leads.