If you think of “possum” as a sort of cuddly term used affectionately, particularly by Australians, think again. The title character here is not cuddly at all but distinctly nasty, as in many ways is the film itself.
It is a first feature film written and directed by Matthew Holness, best known as a writer of horror stories and the writer and star of Channel Four’s horror spoof series Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (2004). So that gives you an idea of what to expect.
This is not a spoof though but an odd mixture of psychological drama and horror movie. Philip (Sean Harris), an obviously disturbed and haunted man, returns to his remote childhood home in the fenlands of Norfolk. His only luggage is a battered leather bag containing the puppet of the title – an ugly creature with spider legs and a ghostly white face that resembles Philip’s own. What sort of show Philip put on in the past with such a creature heaven knows! It’s actually some time before we get a good look at Possum. Philip obviously hates the puppet, he makes several attempts to get rid of it – dumping it in the forest, the river, dismantling it, burning it – but it always comes back to haunt him.
The other element of his past haunting him is his Uncle Maurice (Alun Armstrong), a leery, sneery, threatening piece of work, who lives in the derelict house of Philip’s obviously disturbed childhood and who appears to have some hold over Philip from the younger man’s tragic and abusive past.
Holness sets up the creepy atmosphere well, helped by some well chosen and appropriately desolate locations of chilly marshes and crumbling, deserted buildings. But after the first couple of shock reappearances by Possum, the film meanders along rather aimlessly. The low budget special effects and other tools of the horror genre fail to chill and, despite excellent performances from the two leading actors, its psychological revelations, while unpleasant and potentially disturbing, are also predictable. There is also a subplot involving a kidnapped child which doesn’t really mesh well into the main action.
If you are a fan of Holness’s writing, this may well be your cup of creepiness. Not really mine however.