Features and Columns

How ‘Possum’ Uses the Uncanny as a Metaphor for Trauma

What’s worse than doppelgangers, puppets, and spiders? A combination of all three of course.
Rev Possum
By  · Published on June 19th, 2020

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Possum is an unorthodox and unforgettable film. In part because of its enigmatic, oppressive, and skin-crawling mood and in part because of its uncomfortably large human-faced spider puppet.

The film follows a children’s puppeteer named Phillip (played by the marvelous and under-appreciated Sean Harris) who returns to his childhood home after losing his job for an unspecified reason. While attempting to rid himself of his grotesque spider-legged marionette “Possum,” the disgraced Phillip comes face to face his abusive stepfather (Braveheart‘s Alun Armstrong) and the dark secrets that have haunted him his whole life.

Possum was written and directed by Matthew Holness, whose short story of the same name was originally published in The New Uncanny: Tales of Unease. As a prompt, the anthology’s publisher Comma Press asked horror writers to examine Sigmund Freud’s essay on the Uncanny (a theory based on the existential phenomenon of encountering something simultaneously alien and familiar) and to select one essential human fear as inspiration for a modern horror story. Holness drew from not one, but two fears: puppets and doubles. Slap on some spider legs and the result is one hell of an expressionistic nightmare about a man trying to destroy a puppet that is as much a symbol of his past trauma as a reflection of himself.

You can watch “The Unseen Terror of Posssum” here:

Who made this?

“The Uncanny Horror of Possum” was created by Ryan Hollinger, a Northern Irish video essayist with a background in design and animation who specializes in horror films. Hollinger’s analysis usually takes the shape of a personal retrospective. Indulging in a healthy dose of nostalgia, Hollinger’s is contagiously endearing, entertaining, and informative. You can check out Hollinger’s podcast The Carryout on SoundCloud, here. And you can subscribe to Hollinger’s YouTube account, here.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.