I know that watching movie trailers is cool, but you know what else is cool? Not watching movie trailers! Possum is a movie I had been hearing a lot of buzz about during various festival screenings in 2018, yet had no idea what it was about. Luckily, I avoided any trailers and was able to watch it knowing little other than “spider.” What the hell did that even mean? This movie was about spiders? Sort of! Let’s just say that, if you have any interest in seeing Possum, all you need to know is it feels like The Babadook by way of Eraserhead, which should be promising enough to check it out for yourselves. If that isn’t helpful enough, then I’ll say Possum is a mindfuck of the highest order, examining the ways in which grief can manifest itself in our lives in nightmarish ways.
After facing some sort of backlash from some sort of controversy, Philip (Sean Harris) heads to his childhood home with a puppet he made, which is somehow connected with the ambiguous thing he did that got him in trouble. Rather than being a predictable “creepy” ventriloquist dummy, the puppet, named “Possum,” is a disturbing giant spider with a human head. Despite trying to rid himself of Possum, the atrocity keeps appearing, confusing both Philip and the audience. Shortly after arriving back home, a local teen goes missing, raising suspicion that Philip might have a darkness inside him that he’s been keeping from the audience, but only time will tell!
Possum has…a whole lot going on, while also having very little going on. The narrative isn’t very accessible for the casual viewer, yet those who are willing to invest the time in the endeavor will be rewarded with deeply disturbing sequences. Harris’ Philip is equal parts intimidating and vulnerable, refusing to let the audience know whether we should be fearful of the character or if he is merely the victim of his circumstances. There’s little to love about Philip, as he comes across as a weirdo with a puppet, making us all the more paranoid that he’s a friggin’ creep that may have kidnapped a child. However, a failure to empathize with the character could be more of a reflection of myself and my inherent fear of creepy weirdos. You might actually like the guy! Either way, Harris carries the weight of the film effortlessly.
Virtually any film with surrealist elements will inspire the description “Lynch-ian,” but for those of you who have seen much of David Lynch’s work, you’ll know that there’s really no one else like him. However, Possum‘s unsettling imagery, fractured narrative featuring jumps forward and backward in time, and its failure to confirm whether what we’re seeing is fantasy or reality makes it about as close as a movie can come to the works of Lynch. More specifically, the film’s focus on one character in various isolated scenarios with his only company being a giant spider puppet in a bag deservedly invokes the spirit of Eraserhead, though without ever feeling like a carbon copy of the classic.
While there’s very little narrative to invest in, the film does offer a semblance of a resolution, unlike many of Lynch’s works. This isn’t to say there’s some magical reveal in the film’s final moments that makes sense of everything that preceded it, but the climax at least clarifies certain details to make the narrative a little less ambiguous. And, much like The Babadook, we realize that, more than eight-legged puppet abominations, the emotional traumas of our past are what we truly fear and stick with us longer than we’d like, either motivating us or intimidating us in countless ways, yet these memories are only as powerful as we allow them to be.
The comparisons to Eraserhead and Babadook might set expectations quite high and, while Possum shares much of the same DNA as those films, it doesn’t accomplish what either of those films do as effectively. For it being writer/director Matthew Holness‘ debut feature film, it’s quite bold and has made him a filmmaker to watch, as he will surely establish his own unique vision in upcoming projects. Regardless, Possum manages to deliver truly nightmarish imagery which is ultimately justified in its narrative as opposed to being arbitrarily unsettling. Oh, and if you’re at all afraid of spiders, Possum will stay with you until you die, likely becoming the victim of Possum, which is probably a real thing that’s under your bed right now.
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