Sean Harris is on magnificently twisted form as Philip, a troubled children’s puppeteer who is forced to face up to his wicked stepfather (Alun Armstrong, delivering an equally deranged performance) and the dark and surreal secrets that have tortured him his entire life. As Philip deals with his past, he also has to face up to Possum, the hideous hand puppet he keeps in a black leather case, but he finds escaping the will of Possum is as hard as dealing with his demons.
This is the debut feature from Matthew Holness, who is best known as creator and star of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and is based upon a short story, of the same name, that he contributed to horror anthology by Comma Press entitled ‘The New Uncanny’.Going in my only experience of Holness was from his comedy series Darkplace, this film however could not be further form a comedy if it tried. The film opens with an almost Lynchian, that’s a word right? (it’s not but i’ll allow it – ed) credit sequence. Right off the bat this sets the tone for this movie, disturbing from beginning to end, with a wonderfully creepy performance from Sean Harris as the lead character Philip and a demented performance from Alun Armstrong as Maurice. With very little dialogue Harris manages to convey a huge range of emotion and strikes an magnificent balance between creepy and sympathetic, with help from the amazingly subtle makeup. The subtle performance leaves the audience guessing as to whether the blame for the disappearance of a local schoolboy lies at the feet of Harris, right up till the reveal. The world that Holness has created has an excellently run down, rotting feel to it, everything from the setting of the dilapidated childhood home to the colour palate used gives the whole film a chilling almost nightmarish feel to it. The sound design on this film is fantastic, there are many other words I could use to describe it but it really is brilliant, from moments of oppressive auditory overload to remarkable quieter moments and a haunting soundtrack from the Radiophonic Workshop, it is one of the best uses for sound that I’ve seen from a movie in years, never mind just a horror movie. The puppet, let’s talk about the puppet because it could quite possibly be the freakiest horror movie puppet ever committed to film, if you didn’t have arachnophobia or pupaphobia, going in to see this you probably will coming out.
This film does have it’s faults and it sometimes feels like that the short story may have been stretched a bit too thinly but it is a distinctly understated, exceptionally creepy horror movie that is genuinely disturbing and manages to be truly horrific, it also thankfully avoids the use of jump scares. Go see this film if you can but don’t blame me for the nightmares.
★★★★ (and a half)