Edinburgh International Film Festival

Possum (2018)

Starring: Sean Harris, Alun Armstrong, Charlie Eales

Directed by: Matthew Holness

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

If Papillon showed us a vision of prison as hell, Possum has a very different inferno to harrow us with, a deeply unsettling portrait of the mental hell brought on by trauma and abuse.

It may feature a puppet, but we're talking Dead of Night and Magic here rather than Sesame Street.

Philip (Sean Harris, terrifyingly intense as ever) is returning to his neglected childhood home, now inhabited by his curmudgeonly old uncle, Maurice (Alun Armstrong in a grimy wifebeater vest – decidedly not in cuddly-old-Brian-from-New Tricks mode).

Sean Harris as Philip in Possum

Philip has come home to destroy a hideous puppet he has made, a huge, monstrous spider-like creature with its creator's own smooth, white death mask staring blankly out at him from it. Lifeless yet horribly alive, this hybrid ghoul haunts his dreams – and will probably haunt mine too now. Cheers for that...

Does the ghastly Possum puppet represent Philip's own repressed, unsavoury urges (is it a coincidence that a school boy goes missing the minute he returns?) or is it a manifestation of abuse he has suffered? Either way, the shadowy doppelganger refuses to go quietly – and as anyone familiar with doppelganger stories knows, the death of your double can be the death of you.

Dark, disturbing, grubby and creepy, this arthouse horror movie is sprinkled with moments of sheer genre brilliance, interspersed with slow-burning passages of quiet underlying fear and, yes, some images you might want to wipe from your mind for ever. It may at times be a bit too ponderous and deliberately weird but, as a metaphor for unconscious terrors no-one wants to face, Possum is no dummy...

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