Matthew Holness is greatest referred to as the creator and star of cult TV comedy Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. However his debut function film as author and director is a distinctly non-humorous, deeply unsettling psychological horror that leaves a completely haunting impression.
Even the poster is sufficient to provide the creeps.
In Possum, the ever fascinating Sean Harris stars as disturbed loner and puppeteer Philip, who’s carrying one thing very unusual round in his leather-based bag. One thing which will or will not be alive, and hungry.
For Holness, making Possum was very a lot a case of returning to his first inventive love.
“When I was a kid I was into horror more than anything,” he explains. “I grew up with Stephen King novels and Hammer Horror on TV, and the old ‘invasion’ sci-fi films. I got more into comedy later on.”
Primal worry – and puppets
Thick with a sense of surreal atmospheric dread, and unsettling imagery and motifs that each one makes skin-crawling sense by the concluding moments, Possum truly began life as a brief story for an anthology assortment.
“I was asked to look at Freud’s theory of the uncanny, and primal human fears,” explains Holness, who discovered himself drawn to the worry of dummies particularly. “The idea of certain objects coming to life is an unnerving fear we all have.”
Ventriloquists’ dummies and dolls have a longtime place in horror, from Lifeless Of Night time to Baby’s Play, however quite than the basic story of a puppeteer who finally succumbs to insanity, Holness had a totally different concept in thoughts.
“[These stories] often have a puppeteer descend into a psychosis of some kind. But I wanted to pick up the story at that point.”
The film, which musters a highly effective temper of foreboding round its protagonist’s unhinged psychological state, has been positively in comparison with movies similar to David Cronenberg’s Spider by critics.
There are additionally shades of cult Canadian flick Pin, and typically a Lynchian vibe to the dream-like tone and unusual, intentionally stilted dialogue – though Possum is about in rural Norfolk, moderately than a warped imaginative and prescient of the US.
‘A dark performance’
A lot of Possum hinges on a unprecedented lead flip from Harris, who channels actual unhappiness and devastation all through.
The actor, whose CV has spanned every little thing from low-budget indies to this yr’s Mission: Unimaginable Fallout, is so good at conveying silent, simmering emotion – and he provides every thing to a efficiency of perpetually traumatised child-like confusion and terror.
Harris got here on board early, having responded instantly to the script. As a technique actor, a lot of his discussions concerning the position with Holness happened earlier than capturing. And Harris was very clear he needed the character to shine via the horror.
Alun Armstrong co-stars as Philip’s step-father Maurice (Photograph: BFI/Bulldog Film Distribution)
“It’s a dark performance, and he’s willing to go to those places,” says Holness, “but you feel for him too. It hits you on an emotional level.”
Holness and Harris each needed a potent ambiguity to Philip, nevertheless.
“Most films want you to root for a character from the start, but we had to have the audience creeped out by him… and be wary of him as well.”
Veteran actor Alun Armstrong can also be on effective type within the film as Philip’s sole companion, mocking step-father Maurice.
Creating the outlandish music of Possum
That aforementioned environment can also be essential to Possum’s grip, and the film’s rating works wonders in that regard.
The outlandish, unnerving ambient and digital soundtrack by the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop sometimes explodes with such high-pitched depth it’s exhausting to not be shocked, but in quieter moments there are gentle woodwind notes over photographs of the agricultural panorama that really feel like an homage to Kes.
Philip is usually a man with out a voice. And Holness says the music itself “reflects where his head is”, and “communicates what he’s feeling”.
Possum’s sparse, derelict backdrop holds a deeper which means (Photograph: BFI/Bulldog Film Distribution)
Possum had used music by The Radiophonic Workshop for its momentary rating initially – utilizing atmospheric tracks that had featured in exhibits corresponding to Physician Who, as they have been sounds that “Philip would have encountered growing up, watching TV, on his own”. Holness hoped to safe the rights.
However after they noticed the film, the members of the Radiophonic collective have been so impressed they provided to create an unique soundscape for it as an alternative.
These allusions to Kes, in the meantime, are totally deliberate. Holness explains that Billy Casper within the Ken Loach basic shaped his imaginative and prescient of the boy Philip, as “he inhabits a past he’s not been able to escape.”
Impressed by George A Romero
On the filmmaking entrance, a key affect for Holness was silent horror, which is sensible given Possum’s sparing use of dialogue and reliance on visuals and sound to inform its story.
“I wanted to create a silent horror film. And I realised that the character [in Possum] was a character who wouldn’t talk.”
Holness factors to the likes of Nosferatu, M and The Golem; movies with “a dark, fairytale quality to them”, which alluded to horrible occasions in an expressive approach.
“That image of the balloon colliding with the pylons in M is so powerful,” he provides.
Shades of Romero, Nosferatu – and Kes (Photograph: BFI/Bulldog Film Distribution)
However maybe the most important singular inspiration on a thematic and story degree was George A Romero’s 1978 film Martin, one other film about a disturbed solitary younger man who blurs the road between the sinister and the sympathetic.
“It’s a gothic story about a psychologically broken family unit – and that’s what I wanted to emulate,” explains Holness.
He additionally needed to function a protagonist who’s established as being sinister, however who it’s “possible to stay with…and feel for”.
Additionally, simply as “the local geography [in Martin] reflects its decaying relationships”, so too does Possum’s. The decaying domesticity of Philip’s grotesque house is matched by the sparse marshland, derelict buildings and eerie woodland round it.
Youngsters’s rhymes could also be an overused trope in horror, from Nightmare On Elm Road to The Babadook, however Possum’s spine-tingling poem is a corker. Holness truly thought-about utilizing title playing cards somewhat than narration for the poetry extracts initially, so as to add to the ‘silent film’ really feel.
Garth Marenghi: ‘a very serious man making a silly thing’
As an actor and author Holness turned very a lot related to TV comedy within the early a part of his display profession.
He was within the Cambridge Footlights alongside David Mitchell and Robert Webb, made appearances within the likes of Time Trumpet, Friday Night time Dinner and Toast Of London, and might be nonetheless most recognised for his much-loved spoof collection Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace – which in fact drew on his long-time love of the ghoulish and grisly.
Starring Holness because the titular Marenghi – a useless, ludicrous horror hack who has famously “written more books than [he’s] read” – it revolved round a forgotten, horrible (and utterly fictional) ’80s chiller programme ‘dream-weaved’ by Marenghi, filled with continuity errors, hilariously dreadful appearing and deliciously goofy situations riffing on every thing from HP Lovecraft to John Carpenter’s The Fog.
The central forged of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace L-R: Matt Berry, Richard Ayoade, Matthew Holness, Alice Lowe (Photograph: Channel four)
Sadly, and considerably sarcastically, Darkplace solely ever obtained a single run of six episodes on Channel four, however it helped launch the careers of Holness and his co-stars Richard Ayoade, Alice Lowe and Matt Berry.
“The initial pilot for Darkplace didn’t have an ’80s feel,” recollects Holness. “It was modern day. It was just about a very serious, pretentious man making a very silly thing.”
However after making it, they realised the present wanted the interval setting so as to add to the absurdity. And a legend was born.
Learn Extra: Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, a ‘lost classic’ that turned a cult basic
Horror’s reply to Spinal Faucet
Darkplace nonetheless has a extremely devoted fan following. Why does Holness assume it has remained fashionable?
“It’s a self-contained world,” he muses. “It’s a universe that’s been created and you understand the characters, you recognize the place they’re coming from.
“And it’s more than just parody. That only really works for a sketch. The stories actually have to be interesting, the narratives have to work, and a lot of work went into figuring out how and why and who made it. There was another level to it all.”
The interviews with Marenghi and his companions in TV crime definitely added a further layer of humour and ‘reality’ to Darkplace.
Matthew Holness as “author, dream weaver, visionary, plus actor” Garth Marenghi (Photograph: Channel four)
“People can completely immerse themselves in it,” provides Holness. “It’s like Spinal Tap. I loved that world and all its characters. You can escape into it, and the characters feel like real people in that world.”
Regardless of that, it’s clear Holness is now far more eager on making viewers assume and recoil by way of terror than inducing laughter – a path that somebody like Terry Gilliam has additionally pursued.
“I’m far less interested in comedy these days than I have been,” he says, reflecting on his time creating Possum. “This is what I want to do.”
Holness’s notorious comedian creation as soon as stated that writers who use subtext “are all cowards”. So what precisely would Marenghi make of Possum?
“I think he’d hate it!” laughs Holness. “He’d be far more interested in the sequel, where Possum invades a city, and knocks everything down.”
Possum is in UK cinemas from Friday October 26.
• Have your say on the newest TV and film with Display Babble, our dialogue group on Fb