I recently watched the 2018 British horror film Possum, written and directed by Matthew Holness, adapted from his own 2008 short story of the same name. Holness is well-known for the excellent horror spoof Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, and it’s fascinating to see him now playing the horror straight – and in this case, a pitch black and deeply strange example of English weird fiction.
Possum grabbed me most for its brilliant use of landscape – the remote fenlands of East Anglia have never looked so beautifully bleak. Disused railway lines, crumbling bridges, huge flat marshes, damp reservoir embankments and edgeland detritus are all used expertly, again for me solidifying the link between edgeland landscape writing and weird horror fiction. This film is a perfect example of the landscape weird.
It feels dull and redundant to describe this film as ‘folk horror’ – there are obvious nods to the atmosphere and mood of British horror and film from the twentieth century, and the original score by The Radiophonic Workshop is wonderful, but this is more than just an exercise in nostalgia. There are no weird villagers, goats, flower crowns or corn dollies – beyond the use of East Anglian landscapes, familiar from the rightly lauded BBC M.R. James adaptations, there is little here I would call folk horror. Perhaps the use of the titular puppet could be seen as Holness employing an obvious trope – but the thing is so genuinely unnerving I will give it a pass. Its mood, and the bastard setting of marsh and industrial detritus, reminds me much more of the work of weird fiction writers like Joel Lane and D.P. Watt.
It was also welcome to see the actor Sean Harris in the lead role; I have been a fan of him since the 2013 Channel 4 series, Southcliffe, which used the Kent marshes around the time of Faversham (and the first episode is even called ‘The Hollow Shore’…)