A successful expansion of a short film that makes the most of cast chemistry and special effects work.
Synopsis: A young fashion designer’s life spirals as her darkest inner thoughts manifest into something gruesome- that won’t stop growing.
Anna Zlokovic’s original short film (reviewed as part of my Final Girls Berlin Film Festival coverage and available on YouTube) featured Rachel Sennott as a fashion student struggling to impress her difficult tutor and with a rather more literal manifestation of her critical inner voice. The feature version takes that intriguing concept as a jumping-off point for a deeper, wider story.
Swapping out Sennott’s nervous student for Hadley Robinson’s Hannah, a young woman battling to find her voice, the feature seeks to explore the origins and wider implications of anxiety and self-doubt. A domineering, sneering fashion lecturer rejects her work, despite it being drawn from her authentic experience. Her family relationships offer stuffy dinners and repeated criticisms. As the weight of everything presses on her, she soon finds a pain in her side that hints at a much more serious problem. While this explores similar ground to the short, there is much more to be explored within the feature.
Hannah’s anxiety is expressed through body horror – namely the titular appendage, but also in smaller moments with close-ups of anxiety behaviours like skin picking adding an extra layer to her discomfort within her own skin. These moments are effective at building the overall character as well as introducing elements that will likely draw winces. Despite excellent effects, this does feel like it struggles at times to marry the horror and comic elements, having to more obviously switch between the modes to make the narrative work. The darkness that Hannah’s character is required to explore, including her increasing isolation from her friend and boyfriend, is not a completely easy fit for too much comedy early on.
At around the one-hour mark, the film takes a departure from the heavier tone exploring Hannah’s internal life, instead moving to a larger narrative that allows Robinson to have a little more fun with her performance. Joined by Claudia (Emily Hampshire), a woman suffering from the same affliction, the pair’s easy chemistry carries proceedings for a while. Although there are times when this falls into the trap of laboured exposition that lighter reprieve does lend the film a greater balance, making it more enjoyable. This contrasting section held the most appeal to me because of the performances and the sense that the film feels most comfortable in the more overtly comic, or at least elevated (not that kind of elevated horror – elevated as in bringing more excessive elements) space.
While Appendage is too familiar in places and occasionally overwrites its otherwise refreshingly honest yet still positive messaging, it would be an ideal Friday night film, with enough energetic sequences, engaging performances and an overall technical flair to hold attention.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Appendage screened as part of SXSW 2023.