Reviewed by: Emilia Rolewicz

"The poem and whole tone of the film evokes Ted Hughes’ The Crow anthology." | Photo: Courtesy of EIFF

Possum explores the nightmarish nostalgia of Philip (Sean Harris), a puppeteer who returns to his childhood home. However much his house might resemble a bomb site, somehow its appearance is still less disturbing than a past he cannot forget. Much like himself, Philip’s ex-home is a frozen memory with school satchel and rope still hanging from a peg in the hall opposite a crucifix. This subtle religious imagery ties together Philip’s childhood with feelings of penitential guilt surrounding the disappearance of a classmate, which he feels he might have been able to prevent.

The embodiment of his fears lies in a doctor bag he carries everywhere in his lonely traverses through his hometown of deserted industrial plazas and sodden fields. Inside it is ‘Possum,’ a puppet with gangling spider’s legs and its own theme-poem written by Philip:

Copy picture

Mother, father, what’s afoot? Only Possum, black as soot. Mother, father, where to tread? Far from Possum, and his head.

The poem and whole tone of the film evokes Ted Hughes’ The Crow anthology in the symbolic and inherent darkness that these creatures inhabit:

“Black was the heart, Black the liver, black the lungs […] Black also the soul”

In fact, this piece of Freudian puppet-luggage is so attached to Philip that his numerous attempts to destroy it through a holistic range of elements - fire, water and punching - don’t stop Possum returning to his life like a dejected, obsessive lover.

What also remains in the house is his strange stepfather, Maurice, who sits in the grimed kitchen chain-smoking and cackling at Philip’s pathetic maladjustment, whilst offering him questionable antique gobstoppers. Their relationship at first seems harmless if a little peculiar, but the film eventually springs an abrupt ending on us, revealing a more sinister web around Possum’s enduring presence.

The brazenness of this reveal seems to work against the more ambiguous tone of the film; a manic montage reflecting Philip’s descent into madness at being unable to destroy his puppet. The film repeats these scenes enough so that it just about makes it to the 90 minutes standard running time, but unfortunately the overall effect becomes more a dreary than suspenseful. We begin to relate more to Possum than Philip; trapped in a bag being thrown into a river over and over, although, unlike the puppet, we have no wish to return.

Reviewed on: 23 Oct 2018
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A disgraced children's puppeteer is forced to face up to his wicked stepfather.
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EIFF 2018

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