Possum (2018) starring Sean Harris and Alun Armstrong. Directed by Matthew Holness.
Sometimes you don’t know anything about a movie before watching it, you just feel drawn to it and find yourself hitting Play for no apparent reason. Possum was one of those times for me.
Set in England in the early 80’s and opening with a guy staring malevolently at a bag sitting on his bed, I’m instantly getting Basket Case vibes as I find myself thinking, ‘What’s in the bag?’
As a kid growing up in 70’s England, the term ‘paedophile’ wasn’t part of the vernacular, instead we had, ‘Dirty Old Man In A Raincoat’ as our parents’ and teachers’ euphemism of choice, so when the film cuts to our protagonist, Philip, sitting on a train, dressed in a raincoat and staring for long periods of time at a group of schoolboys, my mind was screaming, ‘Pedo!’ Turns out I wasn’t the only one as Philip later walks past a couple of boys who recognise him and shout, ‘Pervert!’ before running off.
Turns out Philip was a children’s puppeteer who is returning to his hometown to go into hiding after being ‘disgraced’. He returns to his childhood home, now derelict, to find his creepy uncle is squatting there. Philip is also here to dispose of whatever is in the bag, and we get shots of Philip stuffing the contents (a puppet made from really long spider’s legs and a human head) into a fire barrel. The next morning Philip wakes up to find the puppet lying next to him on the bed. Oh, and one of the eleven year old boys he was staring at on the train has gone missing…
And that’s the film really, every day Philip tries in vain to dispose of the puppet only to have it return the following day, all the while battling his inner demons and trying to avoid his creepy uncle, whilst at night his dreams are plagued by an unsettling nursery rhyme featuring a creature that preys on children called Possum: ‘Little boy don’t lose your way/Possum wants to come and play’.
The film is unrelentingly grim, Philip spends his days in a rainy town trudging through graffiti filled, piss-stained alleyways and muddy open fields or sleeping in his damp, derelict, lice infested house.
As we watch the film we find ourselves questioning whether the puppet is real or in Philip’s mind, is he trying to get rid of a puppet or the remains of the missing schoolboy? It’s possible the puppet represents his paedophilia (the face is Philip’s), one scene has Philip beating the puppet viciously with his bare hands before breaking down into tears, the sheer amount of unhappiness and self-loathing Philip exudes can at times be almost overwhelming, make no mistake, this is as far removed from ‘light entertainment’ as you can possibly get. When Philip says, ‘This place is disgusting,’ we can’t tell if he’s talking about the house or his soul. When confronted by his uncle about his past actions that led to Philip losing his job at a school, he says, ‘They’ll take me back, when I’m rid of that (the puppet),’ as though he’s somehow capable of redemption by simply destroying a puppet.
The final act gives us some sort of resolution and then suddenly the film is over, with Philip languishing in his own private hell and the audience conflicted over having sympathy for a pedo and feeling in desperate need of a shower. The big reveal at the end raises as many questions as it answers and Possum is a movie that demands more than one viewing.
Possum is hardly enjoyable but it is riveting with just two actors carrying this deeply unsettling, dark psychological tale to its disturbing conclusion.