Possum review: Between the likes of A Quiet Place, Unsane, and Hereditary, 2018 is proving a great year for the horror genre. Matthew Holness’ film might just be the most frightening of them all.

Possum review by Awais Irfan.

Possum review
Possum review

Philip (Sean Harris) is a quiet, intimidating puppeteer; he walks around with a mysterious bag, constantly skeptical of the world and people around him. When he returns to the home he grew up in, plagued by the memories of his horrific childhood at the hand of his wicked stepfather and disgraced puppeteer himself Maurice (Alun Armstrong), he must confront the torment of his past head on and deal with the demon he has been carrying around all his life.

Possum is a filthy film. Quite literally. The cinematography is dingy and utilises a lot of dark, bland characters and unsavoury looking settings – a true horror in its visual palette. But, deeper than this, the characters inhabiting this screenplay are vile and despicable and filthy; the story is even more so. It’s quite an unpalatable film at times. But it’s supposed to be. It’s very unflashy, and not cinematic in its nature, opting to peer into the horrors of reality and people. And it is deeply, deeply affecting. Possum is absolutely terrifying, it’s messed up and horrific and oh so traumatising!

Related: A Quiet Place review

Similarly to Hereditary from earlier this year, Possum is a very unconventional affair in its approach to horror; director Matthew Holness opts for letting shots linger and things just sit in frames rather than going for more outright jumps – there are perhaps only 2, and even these are executed very effectively. Holness’ feature debut is atmospheric, creating a world that is so unpredictable and dark and bleak and letting the audience just sit and squirm in its grasp; the use of slowly-building ideas and creating ambiguity works to great effect in really getting under its audience’s skin. There is a monster too and, visually, it looks haunting; the design of this thing will sear itself into your memory and keep you up at night for many, many nights to come. But the way it’s used too, sparingly but effectively, is also what makes it such a frightening centre-piece. The characters of Philip and Maurice themselves and their interaction is also just so chillingly done and Harris and Armstrong both give terrifically creepy, held-back performances in the roles.

Possum is not for everyone. It’s mundane and occasionally slow, with not a lot really going on during the 90-minute runtime. There is a sense of repetitiveness to the scenes that some may find grating too and the story and creature and characters are all so bleak and hopeless that many will find themselves just turned away by the sheer darkness and despair on show. But, for the horror aficionados, Possum is an exceptional exercise in genre cinema; this is a deeply, deeply unsettling and affecting film that is chilling and vile and the kind of terror that will have you squirming in your seat… but also long after the credits have rolled too. It’s not the most pleasant or enjoyable film to watch but, as a horror, as a character study, it is truly effective and haunting.

Possum review by Awais Irfan, July 2018.

Possum was reviewed at the 2018 Edinburgh International Film Festival.