SXSW showcases a lot of genre cinema, but not every horror movie ends up getting one of the coveted Midnighters slots. Although it’s not always a death sentence — plenty of great horror films have premiered in other sections of the festival — in the case of Appendage, it’s a reflection of the fact that the movie can’t really decide what it wants to be.
The film follows a young woman whose life begins to spiral out of control when her darkest inner thoughts manifest into a gruesome reality that threatens to take over her existence. Based on the short that was part of Hulu’s “Bite Sized Halloween” collection, this is the type of movie that has an interesting premise but would have been much better off staying as a short.
One of the most frustrating things about Appendage is how direct its dialogue is. The movie’s central metaphor about depression and anxiety is so painfully obvious that it does not feel authentic or effective. There is an important conversation to be had about these themes, but this film opts for making a not-too-bold statement rather than provoking conversation.
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The movie also struggled to find its tone. It’s a horror-comedy, but it’s also about a serious topic. Because of this tonal whiplash, it becomes difficult to take the film seriously — or even find it particularly frightening or suspenseful. Yet it also isn’t campy enough to be successful as a B-movie.
The character development is so lackluster that it’s hard to get invested in the characters’ struggle. It feels like everything in the character’s life is designed to get the bare minimum level of sympathy out of the audience. We see glimpses into her job and relationship, but they are never expounded upon in a way that makes them interesting, feeling like they are in the movie out of obligation more than anything else.
Unfortunately, because of the slim character development, the actors aren’t given much to do. It’s a shame — the premise of the film should immediately lend itself to some great versatile performances, but none of the actors manage to show any range, especially lead Hadley Robinson.
The one thing about the movie that is unquestionably impressive is the visual effects. The creature design is fittingly grotesque, and they are brought to life in a way that balances the camp and disturbing factors quite well. That being said, apart from the solid effects, the film is disappointingly lacking in a distinct visual style.
For a streaming horror movie that teens will discover on Hulu and watch late at night, not paying full attention, one could do worse than Appendage. However, the potential is there for this to have been something great, and that makes it all the more disappointing.
Appendage is screening at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 10-18 in Austin, TX.
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