[SXSW 2023 Review] 'Appendage' is an Unconventional Monster Movie Unafraid to Get Weird
“Trust yourself…that is the heart of success.”
While writer Anna Zlokovic’s debut feature, Appendage, may have its issues, one thing that cannot be denied is that the filmmaker is a bold new voice confident in her vision. This is by far one of the most bizarre horror films you’ll see this year.
Appendage stars Hadley Robinson as Hannah, a fashion designer with a troubled past. Pressure is closing in from all sides of her life, whether it’s the fear of getting fired from her job, her inability to please her waspy parents, or the suspicion that her best friend/co-worker, Esther (Kausar Mohammed) might be sleeping with her boyfriend, Kaelin (Brandon Mychal Smith). As if that wasn’t enough, the mounting stress soon manifests into a horrible creature, sending Hannah spiraling down a dark path.
If weird is what you want, weird is what you’re going to get with Appendage.
Zlokovic has quite the taste for the unusual. It’s mere seconds of Hannah having to listen to her mother’s nonsense at the dining table before cringe-worthy body horror comes into play with something pounding against the flesh of her abdomen. Throw in a b-movie sci-fi horror vibe and some gross—though effective—sound design, and Appendage will have the boring normies walking out after the opening scene. If they haven’t, they’ll surely be scurrying away by the end of the first act for fear they may witness something even stranger.
Appendage is sort of like Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers but with less cynicism than either. It’s cleaner than the grindhouse aesthetic of Henenlotter’s films, but Zlokovic shares the controversial filmmaker’s appreciation for the cinema of the bizarre. Any time you think it can’t get any weirder, Appendage finds a way, often taking the viewer in unexpected directions. Zlokovic excels at getting the audience to squirm, not through gore or nastiness—there’s surprisingly little of the former—but through a deluge of strange, uncomfortable circumstances.
To make a story as peculiar as Appendage work, you need an actor that can create a sense of believability, which Robinson does exceptionally well. Hannah is a character splitting apart at the seams, emphasized through uncomfortable close-ups that isolate her from others. Robinson manages to capture all of the pain, the frustration, the utter terror of not knowing who you can trust, in particular, yourself. A brief look of uncertainty in her eyes. The nervous running of her hands through her hair. Robinson has an innate ability to express years of being looked down on in a single glance Your heart aches for this woman...when she isn’t creeping under your skin.
Though the dialogue can be a tad on the nose with characters forgoing subtlety by saying exactly how they feel most of the time, the themes of Appendage is where the film shines. The strength of Zlokovic’s film doesn’t lie in the slimy practical effects or the bizarre nature of it—both of which are a huge plus—but in the soul of what the filmmaker wants to convey. Unlike Basket Case or other films which course through the DNA of Appendage, there’s an odd sweetness which runs through Zlokovic’s debut. For all of the darkness of it, or the ridiculing nastiness of its central creature, this is a monster movie with a heart that isn’t as cold as you may at first think. Look underneath the sticky surface of it, and you’ll find a thoughtful film which examines the ways in which we sometimes let our subconscious control us…as well as a reminder that it doesn’t have to be that way.
If only the other elements were as strong as that.
For as well as Appendage hits the viewer in the feels, the rest of it drags behind like a loose limb. A horror comedy, it struggles to succeed in either. Despite a strong first act which provides a few chills and thrills, the silly creature feature which the film presents itself as takes a backseat to Hannah’s emotional paranoia for an underwhelming second act that leaves the more exciting pieces of the premise in the rearview mirror. The comedy is also stilted at best, with most of the laughs seemingly intended to come from Hannah’s foul-mouthed manifestation, falling flat instead. Throughout the middle, Appendage becomes a steady drain of a horror comedy before finally picking up again in the third act.
Uneven as certain elements may be, Appendage remains an unconventional monster movie with appeal for anyone looking to delve into the unusual. Zlokovic shows real promise with a debut in which she establishes herself as an artist unafraid to get weird, and for that, she has my utmost attention.
By Matt Konopka
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