FILM REVIEW: POSSUM (TELLURIDE HORROR SHOW)
On the flip side to the coin of making a diamond-in-the-rough film festival discovery (see our review for THE HEAD), there’s also the danger a finding a lump of coal. Such was the case with the “puppet-horror” head-scratcher POSSUM, playing as a part of the 9th annual Telluride Horror Show (THS). This was a film that had been hyped up all weekend, with one festival programmer claiming it was the highlight of his festival picks this year. With only one showing on Sunday, I had to be there to see what the hype was about. I am sad to report that the film was a disappointment for this writer on nearly every level, and possibly the worst film I’ve seen in all my years attending THS.
I know that I’m not alone here, since I witnessed at least four people fall asleep during this 3pm screening. One gentleman fell asleep so hard, his snoring woke him up and he promptly exited the theatre. The real horror here is that this happened within the first 30 minutes of the films 87 minute run time. I was definitely squirming but not in the right ways. I felt compelled to write this review, since most of the other reviews I’ve read have been extremely positive (the film currently sits at a 7.4 on IMDB)…so, what did I miss? I argue that I didn’t miss a thing! I have a theory that sometimes the more “intellectual” film critics are terrified to admit that they didn’t understand a film. Therefore, it must have been a deep and provocative journey in to the heart of artistic creativity…right? I reject that theory, and proudly raise my hand to say “what the fuck did I just watch?” and “can I have my 87 minutes back?” To say that I did not like the film is an understatement…Allow me to elaborate.
The film comes to us from Matthew Holness who is the creator of something called GARTH MARENGHI’S DARKPLACE, which admittedly I’m unfamiliar with. During the intro, he received applause for the creation of that property, but I can only critique what I was presented with. The film tells the story of a troubled man named Philip played by Sean Harris (most recently of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE fame) living with his creepy uncle Maurice played by Alun Armstrong. Let me be very clear and state that both of these men turn in wonderful performances considering the material they were presented with. My issue is with the narrative and not the performers.
Philip is obsessed with a disturbing spider puppet with a human looking head. The design of the puppet was also terrific and quite unsettling. The puppet lives in a brown leather bag that Philip can’t seem to get rid of, no matter how hard he tries. 80% of the film is literally Philip walking from place to place, trying to ditch the bag, before trying to recover it in a sheer panic. I remember one particular sequence where I counted no less than three…long…drawn out edits… of him walking. It was painful to watch. It seems that this puppet has some kind of hold over Philip. In addition to the puppet, his Uncle seems to have something over him in the form of a locked door in the house they share.
As the film progresses, Philip continually gets closer and closer to the door without actually opening it. His opening of the door seems contingent on his Uncle not being there, which he always is. “You going in?” Maurice would ask, and Philip would panic and leave the house for more walkabouts. Early on in the film, Philip encounters young schoolboy on a train and the two have an awkward exchange. Throughout the film it’s revealed that this boy has gone missing and the assailant matches Philip’s description. This is as close to a through-line narrative as I can give you. The film culminates with the ultimate reveal of the boy’s fate, in a brisk and assaulting final finale, which occurs once Philip finally opens the locked door. However, the brief 3 minutes of action/conclusion didn’t make up for the other 84 minutes it took to get there. The programmer described it as a slow burn that just explodes…I would argue it’s a slow burn with a wick that fizzles out into a puddle of sadness and disappointment.
The film has a wonderful aesthetic, good actors, really cool puppets, and a lot of artistic symbolism. It just flat out went NOWHERE. One of my festival buddies said that this would have made a terrific short film and I have to 100% agree (thanks Brianna!). This story was just nowhere close to filling out a near 90-minute feature runtime. I get no pleasure from taking down a film I didn’t enjoy, but I simply can’t abide these overwhelmingly positive reviews. I will always be honest with you, my little darlings, and this one was a firm pass in my book. I hope to see more from this director, as it’s obvious that he has talent. I just have no clue what I was supposed to take away from this thing, other than the sense that I chose the wrong 3pm screening on Sunday.
“A slow burn with a wick that fizzles out into a puddle of sadness and disappointment.”
1 Tombstone out of 5…. For aesthetics and acting alone