SXSW 2023 Appendage Review- Quirky Body Horror With A Focused Message
Appendage is a rocky road that uses grotesque body horror, intense psychological dread, and black humor to deliver something refreshing and pointed.
We are always our own worst enemies. So what happens when our self-doubt, insecurity, and anxiety manifest into a literal monster? You get likely the wildest, wackiest horror film you will see all year. Hulu’s horror-comedy written and directed by Anna Zlokovic in her feature debut is full octane bonkers in the best way possible. Based on her six-minute short starring Eric Roberts, the film premiering at SXSW expands on the central themes and core creatures. But, where the short swam in the shallow end, Appendage is a deep dive into the wacky world of vanishing twin syndrome. Imagine if Total Recall’s parasitic twin Kuato was an envious, homicidal mean girl instead of a psychic hero.
Hannah is a young fashion designer who is nearly crippled by the pressures of life. Her mother either smothers her with ridicule disguised as care or ignores her. Her horrible boss Christean is a vicious clothing designer who abuses his employees in a sad attempt to hold onto his position in the world. He revels in keeping others down. Hannah has a serious boyfriend but struggles to find the kind of connection she thinks she should have. He’s a good guy who genuinely seems to care, but Hannah has difficulty letting her guard down.
Only her best friend Esther(Kausar Mohammed) grounds her. Their relationship is sweet and nurturing in a very lived-in way. Even that foundation is rocked though when Hannah gives birth to a twin monster of roiling, spewing self-loathing. The icky little creature preys on her insecurities convincing Hannah her boyfriend, and best friend are cheating on her and whittling away at the tiny amount of confidence she possessed.
Hannah and Esther’s relationship is the most rewarding for both the women and the viewer. It is a positive look inside a healthy female relationship that is rarely seen in film and television series. Typically women are pitted against each other as they vie for power and control. However, these two love each other and can be counted on when the chips are down. It is a highlight and keeps the crazier parts of Appendage from teetering off the edge.
Zlokovic isn’t afraid to get weird, and I mean very, very weird. If the wonderfully quirky Greener Green had a threesome with Swallow and Julia Ducournau’s Titane, Appendage would be their love child. It’s a surprisingly focused commentary on anxiety told through a female lens that uses odd moments of levity and endearing earnestness to deliver on the absurd promise. This is what controlled chaos looks like.
Like Hunter, in Swallow, another intense experience, Hannah’s body betrays her in times of stress. Instead of eating dangerous things as Hunter does, Hannah flicks her nails. It is a grating, hair-raising personality trait amplified by the exaggerated tick, tick of the clicking. Even grosser than the monster that presents herself later, her nail-flipping compulsion will get under your skin and put you uncomfortably in hers.
We first meet Hannah, a talented young fashion designer at an oppressive family meal. Her mother is part helicopter mom and part neglectful wasp. She constantly needles at Hannah but never asks how she is really doing. Hadley Robinson’s Hannah is a very complex woman with all the same concerns modern women face. Robinson successfully plays her as the every girl trying to be everything to everyone all the time. She faces pressure from everyone, but most damagingly from herself. When her issues manifest themselves as a living breathing creature, she is forced to face her demons, inner and otherwise. Hannah gives birth in Appendage to an ugly little beast straight from the Basket Case storyboard.
The creature’s design is good and evolves as the plot develops. As an homage to this oddball body horror classic, it is a bullseye. Hannah’s monster whispers terrible things to her that rattle her to her core. The more she hears the venom spit at her, the weaker she grows and the stronger the appendage gets. Like Hellraiser’s Frank whose flesh fills in with each kill, the monster grows hair and longer limbs with each nasty comment. Finally, when the appendage reaches her full size and gets loose, all hell breaks loose, and everyone has something to worry about.
Once Hannah meets a support group for other victims of their appendages, things really take off. They give her advice and rigid rules to keep her appendage in line. All of it is performed so seriously that you would swear it was an AA meeting in a bizarro universe just alongside our own. That slightly off feeling permeates the entire film so wonderfully it adds both to the horror aspects and also the comedy. Neither would work without the other, and they are so intricately woven it is hard to tell where one ends, and the other begins.
Emily Hampshire(Claudia) is a fun addition as a fellow appendage sufferer. She provides some of the goofiest moments and reminds us of the sarcastic woman we fell in love with in Schitt’s Creek. A final act twist also gives her more complexity, adding to her appeal.
The takeaway in Appendage is we should love ourselves. The good, the bad, and the ugly must be accepted to be truly happy. Appendage is slightly heavy-handed as a metaphor for embracing and learning to love ourselves, but that lends itself to the weird fairy tale feel of the movie. Like a surreal dream, Appendage is a cautionary tale about not letting our self-doubt take us down. Despite the serious subject matter, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and allows us to live in the kooky place that is our imagination. Appendage will stream on Huu soon. Find all our SXSW 2023 coverage here.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.