Possum: The Most Underrated Horror Film I've Ever Seen
Possum is a 2018 British horror film directed by Matthew Holness. It’s about a disturbed man trying to get rid of a creepy puppet. That’s the best way I’d describe the plot, but of course I’m only talking about the surface level. This is by far the most underrated horror film I’ve ever seen. It is so unsettling and really creepy. I’m going to spoil this film so if you haven’t seen it I cannot recommend it enough. Please watch it.
I first watched this back in May of 2019. I was introduced to it by two Film Twitter mutuals and the poster caught my attention. The freaky spider thing coming out of a bag in black and white was enough to make me check this film out. I’ll never forget my first viewing of this film. I watched it with my then girlfriend, now fiancee, and we were both really creeped out. She still talks about how disturbed this film made her feel. Even after multiple viewings, I still feel creeped out and the need to take a shower. It’s honestly a hard film to watch but now it’s an October staple for me.
Sean Harris plays Philip, the protagonist, and he delivers one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. He’s very subtle but he does a lot of acting with his eyes and posture. He walks with a hunch that looks like he has a lot of weight on his shoulders. He’s so believable as this disturbed individual. Alun Armstrong as Maurice is also excellent. He’s very creepy. The two on screen together and interacting are some of the best scenes and their chemistry is top notch.
Matthew Holness wrote and directed this film and it’s his directorial debut. The film is based off of an adaption of Holness’ own short story of the same name. His direction and writing are some of the best I’ve seen. He knew exactly how to shoot this story and I think he succeeded in spades. The script is also really well written. Each character has their own unique way of speaking and they’re developed well. Their first conversation has so much behind the lines it’s really impressive. Not only that, but the “Possum Rhyme” the film repeats is really creepy.
The cinematography and music are also a highlight. This film looks dirty and worn out, which fits the narrative very well. The music perfectly fits the film like a glove. It’s haunting and depressing. I love how it looms in the background of this creepy story. I’m serious, this is one of the best technically made horror films I’ve ever seen and I cannot give the cast and crew enough praise.
I can’t go any further without talking about the puppet, which is named “Possum”. The puppet…. is so fucking terrifying. Seriously, the crew crafted the most unsettling movie prop I have ever seen. It’s like a huge spider-like thing with the head of a bald human. It’s white face with bulging eyes gets so far underneath my skin. It's an uncanny valley face. The way the film shoots the puppet is my favorite aspect. They move it just enough to where it seems real. Some scenes will show the puppet moving “slightly” and it freaks me out every single time. A leg or two will move into frame and I want to turn the TV off. It’s absolutely brilliant.
Like I said before, the plot is about a disturbed man trying to get rid of a creepy puppet. When I tell people about this film that’s how I describe it. He tries burning it, throwing it in a river, sinking it to the bottom of a water reserve, etc. This story has so much depth to it. I’m going to talk about my theories of this film’s plot.
Philip is obviously a disturbed man. He’s been through a lot of trauma his whole life. We see signs of what he’s experienced throughout the film. For example, the film begins with him returning to his childhood home, with the puppet, after many years, and his home is disgusting and unkempt. We see shots of a door in the living room that he keeps looking at. We eventually find out that was his parents’ room and they burned to death in there when he was young. Ever since then, he lived with his “Uncle” Maurice.
So already Philip lost his parents in a tragic accident at a young age and then he has to spend the rest of his childhood living with the abusive Maurice. Throughout the film, we see Maurice treat Philip with disrespect and he mocks him constantly. The ending of the film clearly establishes that Maurice abused Philip physically, mentally, and sexually. Maurice is more subtle throughout but in the end he is full blown psycho. He abuses Philip, taunts his flaws, and sticks his old and crooked fingers down his throat. It’s an unsettling scene that’s hard to watch. Maurice is the main reason why Philip is so disturbed. I even think that he was a serial killer who kidnapped children because a subplot in this film is that a boy goes missing. Philip has one interaction with the boy in the beginning and the film hints that Philip kidnapped the boy. In the end, we see that Philip frees the boy from a suitcase, so he did in fact kidnap him. All of that happened due to Maurice. Philip witnessed Maurice doing that and it caused him to follow suit. I’m even convinced that Maurice was nothing more than a figment of Philip’s imagination and that he died many years ago. Maurice still haunts his mind despite not being there physically. It’s really sad. In the ending, Philip forces Maurice’s head backward and “killing” him. Whether that’s the last Philip sees of Maurice, I’m not sure because the film ends with police sirens getting louder as Philip sits in his backyard.
What does this have to do with Possum, the creepy puppet? Well for one, Maurice was a puppeteer. In the beginning, Maurice talks about his old life as one and even shows Philip his favorite puppet. Again, Philip follows suit and becomes a puppeteer as well. I think he did it to get some validation from Maurice. Philip created Possum. An accumulation of his trauma and thoughts all into one disturbing puppet. It’s even indicated that Philip showed Possum to children. Children! Those poor kids…. Anyway, I believe Possum is Philip’s trauma in physical form. Philip desperately tries to get rid of his trauma the whole film but it always ends up coming back. His trauma is a part of him no matter what he does. Possum is purposely disturbing because so is his trauma. It’s really depressing but brilliantly told.
There’s a couple scenes where Philip visits his old school. The first scene, he goes there and stares at the school, causing the principal to come outside and telling him to leave. Philip is there to reminisce but it looks weird that he’s just staring at the school. The second scene, Philip goes into the school to visit an old teacher but the staff just thinks he’s a weirdo. They have him sit so they can call the police but he leaves before they get there. It’s a really tragic scene because Philip is there because he needs help from his old teacher but society treats Philip like he’s a strange weirdo…. Which he kind of is. It’s really complex.
This film has many dream sequences throughout and I think they are a huge highlight. These scenes are the ones that show Possum moving and haunting Philip. They are so unsettling. They’re shot beautifully with some creepy imagery. My favorite scene in particular is one of the dream sequences where Philip is in bed and the shot reverses back and forth to the end of the bed to where it finally reveals Possum and it slightly moves forward toward Philip. That scene makes me jump in fear every time. It’s very subtle and I really appreciate that.
Unfortunately this film had a limited release and didn’t perform well at the box office. It’s not as well known, which is a shame. I wish this was a hit and became a horror classic. It deserves to be. The film does have a cult following, which is promising. I know I repeated myself with words like unsettling, disturbing, and creepy but this film is all of that and more. It’s a film I will champion until the day I die. It’s my third favorite horror film of all time and I cannot recommend it enough.