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[SXSW ‘23] ‘Appendage’ review: grotesque body horror underwhelms

Ridiculous, but not really in the fun way.

Appendage, starring Hadley Robinson, is about a young woman whose darkest thoughts and insecurities take shape – quite literally – in the form of a new body part that rears its very ugly head out of her torso. As Hannah (Robinson) works at her high-pressure job for a prestigious fashion house, her intrusive thoughts get the best of her. Appendage fully embraces gross and absurd body horror, but much of the comedy of it doesn’t quite land. 

Writer/Director Anna Zlokovic released a short film of the same name in 2021. The six-minute short became part of Hulu’s “Bite Sized Halloween”. The short is funny and weird and gross, but effective. Clearly the idea stuck around for Zlokovic, because the feature length film is based on exactly the same idea and plot as the short. 

With the rise in popularity of ridiculous horror films the last few years – movies like Malignant and Barbarian – it’s to be expected that more ridiculous horror would be coming out. The idea of a film about a hideous new body part emerging as a physical manifestation of stress seems like a good idea that fits right in with this trend, in theory.

The problem with Appendage, though, is that it’s too over-the-top. The appendage yells things like “Boo bitch!” and swears brashly. While this could be funny – and was funny as a short film – it comes across as merely absurd, and not in a particularly interesting way. By the time that the growth has appeared on Hannah’s body, we’re not really interested in Hannah’s life, relationship, or career. 

While the beginning of the film and the first appearance of the appendage immediately called Malignant to mind, the comparison between 2021’s zany James Wan horror hit and Appendage don’t end there. Hannah has “chimera” DNA and has absorbed her twin. Where the explanation for “Gabriel” in Malignant didn’t come until the end of the film, Appendage tries to explain itself fairly early on. Seeing as Hannah’s new body part is beyond the realm of what is actually plausible, this explanation is completely unnecessary. 

The appendage – which looks sort of like a goblin baby – is just too ridiculous to be believed. Cronenberg made new body parts mysterious and intriguing in Crimes of the Future, but in Zlokovic’s film, there is truly no mystery. 

The obvious metaphor for Hannah’s intrusive thoughts is definitely supposed to be ridiculous — there’s a point here about how our anxieties are fueled by the weight that we give them — but the symbolism is too heavy handed and obvious. 

Hannah removes her appendage, and while it’s not attached to her body any more, she still can’t get rid of it or seem to kill it. Horrified and feeling like she’s losing her mind, Hannah finds a support group for others like her — and there are, apparently, plenty of others like her. This is where Appendage begins to find its footing as a separate film from the short, and become less derivative of other horror films. It feels like too little too late after the film’s hollow beginning, though.  

As Appendage reaches its climax, it offers few moments of suspense. This building suspense is hard to buy into if you haven’t fully invested in the ridiculous premise. It’s too bad, because there is something good here and a strong metaphor that could have been handled more subtly. In turning the short film into a feature, Appendage had the opportunity to be truly weird body horror, but instead it feels like a knock-off – and one that should have just been kept as a short film. 

The World Premiere of “Appendage” will be held at the South by Southwest Film and TV Festival on March 11, 2023.

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