CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND AAARGH GET THAT ******* THING AWAY FROM ME
What's been missing from horror cinema in recent years (decades, even)? Proper horror, I think. Sudden, brilliantly timed Boo! moments and scary faces looming out of the darkness abound, and there's no shortage of severed heads or squirts of blood (even if many of them are realised by cheap CGI), but where are the actual, genuinely upsetting horror movies? Sure, they can be scary, creepy, jumpy and/or yucky while they're on, but very few of them stay with you long after the end credits and a return to daylight. There have only been a couple of films in the last ten years that had me sleeping with the lights on, but that wonderfully elusive feel and stench of nightmare and fear for one's own soul and mind.... it just doesn't seem to happen.
Possum comes as close as anything in the last ten, twenty years: a strange artefact that seems to have fallen through time from an alternative 1970s with that clammy sense of dread and terror about it. In the sense that it has any plot at all beyond a framework for the visuals, it (possibly) concerns disgraced children's entertainer and puppeteer Philip who returns to his childhood home and his abusive Uncle Maurice, a filthy, repulsive Albert Steptoe of a man. Philip always carries a holdall with him that contains (or does it?) Possum, his old puppet that might actually have a mind of its own. Meanwhile a local schoolboy has gone missing....
Much of Possum takes place in a deserted British countryside of abandoned barracks and lonely marshlands in which Philip (possibly) wants to destroy Possum or (possibly) is in thrall to him/it in the manner of a hundred horror stories about puppeteers or ventriloquists and their dummies. Every so often he opens the bag (or it opens itself) and a hideous leg arcs out of it - or is everything in his mind? There's actually little doubt that most of the film is taking place within his mind and even Maurice might well be a memory or a figment of his imagination (the two men are the only significant speaking characters in the whole film).
Not that it matters. Possum is less a story than a mood: it has the look and feel of forgotten late seventies TV, or the Scarfolk posters and blogs. The production design is immaculate, the photography is beautiful (another reminder that even the finest digital is no real match for well-utilised film stock), and the Radiophonic Workshop soundtrack, a mixture of miserable, seemingly real solo instruments and dark ambient textures, ramps up the off-kilter horror of the desolate, deserted locations. And Possum itself is genuinely terrifying in a primal "I don't care what it is or why it is, just get it out of my sight" kind of a way. It's maybe not a film to love, and fans of strong and coherent narrative will probably hate it, but it's certainly a film to admire for its atmosphere and almost Lynchian head-trip oddness and I wouldn't be averse to seeing it again. Just keep that beast thing well away from me.