‘Appendage’: A Pitch-Perfect Blend of Dark Comedy and Body Horror [SXSW 2023 Review]
Anxiety is a monster. No, like literally, at least in the world of director Anna Zlokovic‘s feature film debut Appendange, which had its world premiere at this year’s SXSW Film and TV Festival. Adapted from her short film of the same name, Zlokovic creates a darkly hilarious piece of body horror that strikes an almost perfect balance of horror and comedy. Supported by great performances and stellar practical effects, Appendage is perhaps one of the best and most ridiculous representations of anxiety seen in the genre.
Hannah (Hadley Robinson) is a young fashion designer who has a seemingly pretty decent life. She has a great boyfriend Kaelin (Brandon Mychal Smith), a supportive best friend Esther (Kausar Mohammed), a nice apartment, and a job with a well-known designer. But, despite the mask, she deals with massive self-doubt and high anxiety, especially when her boss is cruel, her work is never good enough, and her parents can barely muster up the energy to check on her. Then, one day, a freaky little dude grows out of her skin. This creature curses like a sailor and is ready to read you to filth. It’s the physical manifestation of self-loathing, after all.
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And to take the metaphor even further, this Appendage feeds off Hannah, draining her energy to gain more power. Desperate for answers, Hannah discovers a support group for people like her, people who have grown their own Appendages. Here she meets Claudia (Emily Hampshire), who helps show her how to live with her growth. What seems to be a solution quickly shifts into a jaw-dropping nightmare.
The best thing about Appendage is how weird it is and how willing it is to just commit to that weirdness. Yes, anxiety as a literal monster made of your own flesh is weird. But so is anxiety in general. Because of Zlokovic’s confidence in her directorial voice, what is ridiculous is also the perfect metaphor for anxiety. You almost feel dumb for not thinking of it before. Zlokovic also knows how to balance horror with comedy without veering too far into either, which is no easy feat. This is a premise that could easily just become slapstick comedy as a little goblin-like being screams curses and insults. But, Zlokovic balances the potty mouth with Hannah’s own emotional and physical decline to make this creature not just silly, but powerful, too.
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Hampshire steals the show with her playfully sensual performance as Claudia. Her devilish smile and magnetic personality make her the perfect “new friend with a secret”. The rest of the performances are strong, too, but the characters needed just a little more depth. I wanted a little more of Hannah, Esther, and Kaelin to truly invest in their story. Mohammed and Smith are relegated to the unfortunate roles of POC as sidekick characters, but Zlokovic tries to give them more agency than seen in recent horror films. Meanwhile, Hannah’s experience with anxiety is both relatable and almost too vague. It feels like Zlokovic wants to make them as relatable as possible, to the point that they become more like caricatures rather than fully realized characters.
This all boils down to the story of Appendage feeling stretched too thin in spots. But, a short runtime, paired with a twisty story and a stellar ending, can be forgiven in the name of, again, committing to an all-out weird story about anxiety. Zlokovic took her six-minute short and creates a bizarre, disgusting, and relatable horror film that gets to the root of what anxiety feels like. Somehow, a strange, perfectly designed piece of practical effects beautifully embodies what it means to live with anxiety. And for that, Zlokovic deserves a round of applause.
With ‘Appendage’, Anna Zlokovic creates a bizarre, disgusting, and relatable horror film that gets to the root of what anxiety feels like.