A Temporary Glimpse into the World of Possum (2018): An Absolutely Gripping Fever Dream of a Film.
All Bones, No Meat
I like my films how I like my sexual encounters; confusing, without context, and unsure of what’s going on for the majority of the time. A wise man (me) once said media is best experienced when you have the least amount of context going into them. No trailers, no spoilers, just a cool-sounding title and a summary of a few sentences to spice up your interest. So when it comes to the 2018 film Possum, directed by Matthew Holness, here it is:
A small talking man, aged by torment, has returned to his childhood home after serving in the military. After his service, he takes up puppeteering, but it doesn’t go too well. Maybe because his puppet is a giant disgusting, wound-ridden spider with a human head, glass eyes, and a hundred-yard stare. The house he returns to isn’t empty though; when he arrives he finds his filthy uncle Maurice has been living there for some time now. The plot revolves around dream-like montages of our dear puppeteer Philip returning to different places significant to his childhood as he attempts to figure out the secrets of his past and the house he now lives in.
There’s your summary. That’s ALL you get. Go watch it, it’s fantastic, I gave it 4/5 stars (that’s a high score from me). If you feel intrigued but don’t care about spoilers, or if you’ve already watched it, stay for a bit while I go into detail about this film, and probably end up digging deeper than necessary.
*TRIGGER WARNING: This film includes themes of abuse and sexual assault. If you are uncomfortable with these concepts or themes please don’t watch/read about this film. If you or someone you know is dealing with abuse trouble and need help, call this number:
National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline – 800.656.HOPE (4673)
Thank you and enjoy the rest of the review.*
!!! SPOILER WARNING !!!
All Meat, Boneless
Alright sweet, now that we’ve thinned the herd a little bit, let’s talk about this movie.
Possum (2018) follows what I would call “dream logic.” Numerous scenes of the film happen out of order or with fractures in between, with the camera taking a break from what’s really happening to Phillip and instead catching a shot of some yellow and orange balloons beginning to smoke up, black rain pouring from the sky, and seeing that dreadful Possum puppet everywhere he goes. Possum is filmed in such a way that it gradually reveals more and more of the horrifying Possum puppet to the audience, representing Philip’s reawakening demons as well as both the audience and Philip slowly beginning to realize that Uncle Maurice has more to do with his trauma than Philip thinks.
Some shots seem to be glimpses into Philip’s memory, showing places he’s been in before, just empty with no one else in them. The film doesn’t have many human characters in it, making it seem just as lonely as Phillip is. However, that isn’t to say that the film lacks character; Sean Harris (who plays Philip) delivers a haunting performance that keeps a tight grip of your attention through the entirety of Possum’s 85-minute run time. Speaking of acting, Harris’ movements throughout the film are very reminiscent of child-like mannerisms and insecurities. Looking over his shoulder while he runs away nervously, sweaty hands held together in front of him like a toddler would when anxious from potential danger, curling up into the fetal position and crying when feeling threatened and whining like an unwanting baby when confronted. These all contribute to the ever-present truth of poor Phillip’s corrupted innocence, which is fed to the audience generously throughout.
What Does It Mean?
On the topic of symbolism, this film is full, simply bursting with it. If you like shots of random things representing other aspects or themes found in the movie, you’re in luck because this film has TONS of that. Here’s a quick list of all the symbols that I could find on the first viewing:
- The yellow and orange balloons floating inside a children’s room represent Phillip’s original childhood ignorance, while the black smoke enveloping them represents the death of his parents (from the fire that Uncle Maurice started in Phillip’s house) as well as the corruption or ‘blackening’ of childhood innocence.
- The nursery rhyme, “Mother, Father, what’s afoot? Only Possum, black as soot” bridges the gap between the purity of his younger years and the hell he now endures every day, walking around trying to live while being haunted by his past, feeling the eyes of his abuser on him at all times.
- The black rain pouring from the sky, tainting everything it touches with its necro-colored pollution, is a symbol of Phillip feeling that his whole world is being overcome by insanity.
- The immortal fox which can be beaten until dead and rotten, but somehow always stands back up and walks away, is a symbol of the anguish he feels and his inability to get rid of it.
- The surrounding area is full of forests with many dead trees and warped branches, symbolizing the spindly, disgusting spider legs of the Possum.
- While on the topic of spider legs, those in themselves are a symbol for fingers. If you haven’t seen the last 10 minutes of the film, there’s a LOT of fingers involved.
- And last but not least, the Possum. Phillip’s dead-eyed spider puppet symbolizes multiple things; his fractured or suffering mental state, his abusive uncle Maurice (who we later discover is the man who’s been abducting and molesting many children in the area, who also raped him when he was young), and Philip’s desire to release this trauma from his life. Wherever he goes, no matter how hard he tries to get rid of it, the Possum is always there. Creeping up close behind him, watching him from afar, waking up with it in his bed, menacing him with his long, hairy appendages. There is no escape, you can’t break it or burn it, you can’t leave it all behind, because pain and memories aren’t physical things. The only way to get rid of abuse is to do away with the abuser.
When Uncle Maurice says, “Waking up is it? Wants to get out” he’s referring to Phillip’s growing suspicion that Maurice is actually the one that raped him.
The green candies Maurice offers to Phillip could potentially be drugs that knock him out and allow for Maurice to get up to his dirty deeds. They could also be just regular candies that Maurice used to coerce Phillip into doing gross things or letting Maurice abuse him more.
The nature of the name ‘Possum’ for the puppet could be significant in that it mirrors how Phillip acts. Possums (the animal) are known to be cowardly and play dead when frightened, which is something Phillip does when he’s put into an uncomfortable situation. When he throws the Possum off the bridge, he too acts like a possum, slams into the mud, and curls up in a ball while he experiences horrible flashbacks.
This movie is really good and it is worth your time. It makes you feel more uncomfortable and slimy than scared, but the single most terrifying scene of the whole movie is well deserved. I literally threw my laptop when Uncle Maurice jumped out of the shadows. Please support this film, I genuinely recommend it.