SXSW 2023: ‘Appendage’ Is An Engaging Body Horror Film With A Psychological Edge
by Gary Catig
Appendage first began as a short film that premiered on Hulu during the second season of 20th Digital’s Bite Size Halloween. Then it was selected as part of 20th Digital’s horror features for the streaming platform. That’s quite a journey punctuated by the full length movie having its world premiere at SXSW.
The story follows a young unassuming fashion designer named Hannah (Hadley Richardson). What you can’t see on the surface is her debilitating self-doubt that consumes her. The insecurities that develop caused by her overbearing mother, high stress job, and current romantic relationship begin to manifest into an actual unsightly monster that forms from her body. It soon becomes a struggle for Hannah as her wellbeing is tied to this new appendage. The more she questions herself, the stronger it becomes.
Richardson plays a sympathetic protagonist. She portrays the festering feelings underneath well, and her situations can be relatable. A judgmental mom, a supporting but absent father, and an over demanding boss with no appreciation or acknowledgment. Maybe the issues in her love life are a little extreme, but not unheard of. In addition, the role asks for some versatility from Richardson, which she rises to the challenge.
Another intriguing cast member is Emily Hampshire as Claudia. She is a mysterious figure who befriends Hannah, and serves as a mentor of sorts. Despite a grounded and more realistic perspective, there is an uneasiness around her character, but yet also a rebellious spirit.
Writer and director, Anna Zlokovic, does a good job expanding on the original material into a full-length feature. The body horror is an evolution from uncomfortably adorable to disturbing. There are moments with genuine chills. The whole premise of Appendage is interesting providing an imaginative backstory and mythology of the condition. The callbacks and foreshadowing are clever, and even if you think you know what’s happening, you can never predict the overall big picture which adds to the surprise.
If there is a complaint about Appendage, it’s that there is a tonal disconnect from early on to the rest of the film. The movie tries to capture the comedic campiness of the short, however the transition to darker and more serious themes feels off and awkward. It’s a shame because the majority is compelling, and the humor of her employer and her appendage doesn’t correctly match with what you receive later on.
Overall, Appendage is an engaging body horror film with a psychological edge. It will arrive on Hulu later this year.