Review: Possum @ HOME + Matthew Holness Q&A
Review: Possum @ HOME + Matthew Holness Q&A
Matthew Holness may be best known for his roots in comedy, but his first feature film Possum is, in his own words, “about as bleak as it gets.”
Possum follows disgraced puppeteer Philip (Sean Harris), who returns to his childhood home and is forced to face his cruel stepfather Maurice (Alun Armstrong) and trauma from his past. He brings with him his puppet Possum, which Holness describes as a “hideous self portrait”, with the intention to destroy it.
Holness rose to fame in 2004 with the show he wrote and starred in, Garth Mahrengi’s Darkplace - a comedy horror parody of 1980s television drama. The show wasn't massively popular on its first showing but gained a cult following over the year.
There’s been a fair few atmospheric art house style films this year, from Lynne Ramsey’s You Were Never Really Here to Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, and Possum steps into this territory, with its lingering shots of Philip meandering across the Norfolk fields and scurrying through the haunting woods.
Throughout the film there’s very little to actually be scared of, much of the fear is left to the audience's imagination, but this leaves a palpable anxiety on the screen. The tension broods and boils as we’re given tiny pieces of information about Philip’s story and try to piece together what little we know.
'CREEPY AND FAIRYTALE-LIKE'
As we learn more, we see more of Possum, which without a doubt is the scariest thing I've ever seen. It’s like a crossover of Babyface from the Toy Story franchise and Pazuzu in The Exorcist.
Holness insists his influence for the puppet comes from German horror films of the early 20th century, such as Hands of Corlac and The Golem.
Speaking after the screening at HOME in a Q&A, he said: “I was watching lots of German expressionist horror films from the 20s and I fell in love with them, they're uniquely creepy and they all feel very fairytale like.
“The world that we see them is not a world we can relate to any more. The fact that they were about war trauma and subjects like that and they presented visually stories that were dealing with very dark subject matter.”
Possum is very similar in its dark subject matter, we are aware throughout that Philip is dealing with trauma, with an ominous door in his house that remains closed being the physical manifestation of his repressed trauma.
According to Holness it was a very dark set and with Sean Harris famous for his method acting, he was “very keen on the film being truthful to the character of Philip.”
This pays off, as even with the very small amount of dialogue (the first draft of the script was only 45 pages), Sean has such an expressive face that even the tiniest flinch has a momentous impact.
The limited amount of speech is countered by a wonderful score by The Radiophonic Workshop. It whirrs and hums below the film, with every stare and touch brought to life by the dark synthesiser tones.
It’s the first film that the group have ever scored fully, and it’s done masterfully. Holness previously said: “This soundtrack a testament to the Radiophonic Workshop’s mastery of sound. At once unnerving, atmospheric, and deeply moving.”
Alun Armstrong is fantastic as Maurice, producing a daunting on-screen presence, with his unhinged laugh and mannerisms instilling an angst and fear that perfectly counters Sean Harris’ understated performance.
Maurice was a very hard role to cast, so much so that Matthew tells us lots of actors turned it down.
“Lots were quite angry we’d even approached them over such a despicable part,” with one replying “I just don't get this, what the hell is this?”
According to Matthew, the film was even darker to begin with.
“The script started with the scene of Philip’s breakdown on stage, it was black screen and you'd hear Philip talking to the children on stage and then collapse.
“He’d have his breakdown and you'd have lots of children bursting into tears and it was a very unpleasant scene. But oddly enough when I tried to piece that goethe it was so unpleasant that it was too much. And I realised that if you heard that you'd have no sympathy for Philip at all.”
He joked that even trying to produce this scene had its problems, as “even doing a google search to find ‘sound of children crying’ is a) difficult, b) questionable, and c) liable to put you in prison for god knows how long.”
Despite this, Matthew assures us that the next film is going to be even darker…
Possum is in cinemas and available on demand now, you can find out if it’s being shown near you on this link - https://www.possumfilm.com/