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Writer/director Matthew Holness stretches dread like taffy in Possum, his cinematic adaptation of his own short story. In our Google-influenced world, it's interesting to note that the third entry when one types 'Possum movie' completes as 'Possum movie explained'. That entry, however, is instructive, as Holness' black, bristly-haired confection is neither an easy swallow, nor a neatly wrapped package. On the other hand, it is an uneasy tour-de-force filled with haunting cinematography and two stunning performances. While Possum is absolutely Highly Recommended on its own merits, you need to ready yourself for a macabre, minimalist meditation, and if that sounds groovy to you, you'll not do much better.
There's not much in the way of plot, beyond mention of an abducted teen, and a sad man, Philip (stolid, wounded Sean Harris) who spends his time in a dilapidated English home, trying to destroy a horrifying puppet while being gently mocked by a man who may be his father, Maurice (the astoundingly craggy Alun Armstrong). Honestly, the accents and affect are so thick, you're better off reading the box (I didn't) which describes the setup more completely, though I don't know that such foreknowledge will make the movie any more effective.
Philip's puppet is a coffee-table-sized spider with a human head, which he's stuffed in a leather satchel. His new home is filled with rot and dead leaves, and he spends some of his time lying down on a stained bed, haunted by dreams of the satchel, and Possum, the puppet (the subject of a horrifying kids' book he may have written as a young man). Sometimes he wakes up to find the puppet in bed, staring at him. Upon occasion he goes into Maurice's rooms, only to be tormented by the squalid man and his tobacco-stained fingers. Sometimes in real life, sometimes in dreams, he tries to destroy the Possum. Sometimes, Possum's spindly legs slowly unfold from the satchel. Possum's head pops out from behind a door, lidless eyes staring in rebuke.
In fact Possum or the abducted teen both may be MacGuffins, but Philip's tenuous grasp on Earthly Life is not. "Move on, will you?" a teacher asks as Philip stands, scowling in front of a school, for a suspicious number of minutes. And thus is the fulcrum around which Possum turns, Philip's imprisonment in a nightmare of either his, or Maurice's creation.
The delight comes from Harris' performance, so powerfully constrained, so much sadness and anger expressed in a few terse words and a mouth forever dragged down in a grimace, as if the earth itself were pulling him into the grave. Harris and Armstrong carry Possum, a film with not enough plot to sustain 30 minutes, on their mildewed shoulders, weaving magic from anguish and torment. But grace notes, like Philip's dream-tree, where Possum wields its own true power from the center of the plant which appears to rise on its own spider-legs from the ground, turn into hallmarks of the movie's insidious power. Finally, Holness gives the existential dread legs, allowing Possum to creep after Philip in a climax guaranteed to give arachnophobes nightmares while supplying the barest of resolutions to those who like things packaged neatly.
Sean Harris and Alun Armstrong are immensely powerful in Matthew Holness' cryptic, creepy, and sinisterly beautiful movie. Conventional plotting and easy answers are nowhere to be found, but art-house anxiety, dread, and stunning performances from the two leads are more-than-adequate compensation. Highly Recommended.
The 1.85:1 ratio presentation of Possum from Dark Sky Films is just fine for what is fast becoming an antiquated medium. Colors are on the drabby side, as is clearly an artistic choice, but are nicely saturated and look fairly natural. Detail levels are just OK, only rising to good clarity in close-up. (For instance, you can track Armstrong's wild eyebrows faithfully in close-up.) On the other hand, the soft quality of mid and background details seem to fit the movie's aesthetic well.
Possum comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound Audio track that highlights the movie's awesome score by The Radiophonic Workshop quite nicely. Dialog is frequently muttered and mumbled and clouded in heavy accents, so good luck on that count. Since the movie is more soundtrack than dialog-driven, the music sounds great, and occupies a nice sonic environment, but the center-oriented dialog suffers a bit in comparison.
Extras include the Possum Theatrical Trailer as well as other Dark Sky Trailers and 11 minutes of Behind the Scenes footage. Additionally, find almost an hours' worth of Interviews with the two principal actors, the director, and the producer, speaking earnestly about the film.
Sean Harris and Alun Armstrong are immensely powerful in Matthew Holness' cryptic, creepy, and sinisterly beautiful movie about a man possibly trying to flee his past in the form of a nightmarish spider puppet. Conventional plotting and easy answers are nowhere to be found, but art-house anxiety, dread, a very slow and measured pace, and stunning performances from the two leads are more-than-adequate compensation. Highly Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke