dir: Anna Zlokovic
Appendage, despite the name, which sounds like a prequel to Boogie Nights, is funny and horrifying in appropriate measure, and works in ways and on levels that Cobweb, the horror flick I saw just before it, never does.
This flick works more on a close-up, bonkers queasy physical level, because at first at least it’s about an anxious and stressed out person physically reacting to all the bullshit life throws up for us on a daily basis. We’re not talking about anything radically inventive or brand new – there are countless movies and stories about people and their darker selves, the shadow self that Carl Jung constantly banged on about; the Jekyll and Hyde nature of humanity.
This flick though…
Hanna (Hadley Robinson) is young, and yet stressed the fuck out. She has a wonderful boyfriend (Brandon Mychal Smith), a job as a fashion designer with an acclaimed atelier, an intense best friend (Kauser Mohammed) that she also works with, and she’s blonde, young and white in America. What could she possibly have to complain about?
Well, you know, sorry to have to mansplain things to you, but however matters may look on the surface of people’s lives, none of that necessarily prevents or alleviates the potential impact of trauma, of depression or anxiety on any individual.
The body keeps the score, or so the saying goes. Hanna’s nervous tics in the face of the instances of frustration or disappointment seem to be escalating, and regardless of her polite and pleasant outward demeanour, her insides are roiling, and she is struggling.
And something seems like it’s growing out of her left side, out of her birthmark.
There is some inkling of something having happened in the past. And, really, should it be any surprise that whenever she spends time with her mum (Deborah Rennard) or gets calls from her, that her anxiety goes through the roof?
Doesn’t that happen to virtually every female protagonist in virtually everything? And / or every woman on the planet?
Hanna hasn’t done anything wrong, though. She doesn’t, in the logic of horror films, deserve any of the bad things that start happening to her. The voice inside which criticises her, and tells her she’s shit, and that she can’t connect with people, and that she’s unlovable, well, it’s a voice a lot of people have, or occasionally experience. But don’t you know, in her case there’s also genetic component to it.
Now, I like allegory. I am comfortable with metaphor. And I can appreciate the difference between implying something, subtext and bold text, spelling everything out in case we in the audience are complete morons. How people will react to the elements of the film that literalise the ideas into something physical, well, mileage will significantly vary between viewers.
When the thing that comes out of her comes out of her, it’s a hideous, tiny thing. Somewhere between an evil shrivelled twin and a homunculus. She will eventually refer to it as her appendage, from which the movie’s title derived, but they are linked psychically, not physically anymore. She can’t believe it’s really real, but we can see it too.
And it knows her, knows what to say in order to make her feel like absolute shit. Her greatest fear involves her boyfriend and best friend hooking up. So naturally she cuts both off just to give them even more reason to hang out.
I haven’t mentioned her heavy alcohol consumption yet, but I guess it’s relevant. Outwardly, Hanna starts withdrawing from her worried best friend and boyfriend, saying she needs time to herself, and it presents, to use the vernacular of therapy, as someone having a significant mental health episode. And because this flick is almost a parody of that contemporary therapist speak, like most people, they just step back.
But Hanna is embroiled in something far darker, and far funnier than I thought possible, after she makes contact with a support group for people going through what she’s going through. And yet even those freaks aren’t what they appear to be.
There is an absolute bullshit story that is always attributed to the Native American wisdom the tribal peoples are allegedly given permanent access to, to recompense them for centuries of genocide and dispossession. The story seems to delineate the supposed duality that exists within all people, represented as two wolves, and that the one you feed, as in, the one you give in to more or nurture, is the one that dominates.
Absolute bullshit, Cherokee or otherwise. Within us we may have two wolves, but each of those wolves contain more wolves, and those contain exponentially more wolves, and so on. We contain multitudes, we are legion, we are blah blah blah. But the central idea is there – the one you feed is the one that gets stronger, to the detriment of the other one.
But it’s how the appendage feeds that matters – when Hanna tries to starve it, or sedate it, or medicate it (with alcohol), she’s starving herself in some ways. When she feeds it her self-doubt, her feelings of unworthiness, her regrets and her jealousies, it becomes even more monstrous and isolates her further.
How, oh how, will this dilemma be solved? While this is definitely a horror flick, probably leaning more into the area of body horror, with a fair bit of gore, it’s not really that horrifying a flick. Though there are monsters (not least of which being Hannah’s horrible soft spoken boss Christian) in this flick, this is not a monster flick where people are driven to battle their literal demons by carving a path with knife or chainsaw. This isn’t about killing the monsters within or without. It’s about learning the best way to live with them (not to imply this flick is in any way like it or that it at all rips off any elements of The Babadook, but in terms of resolution they tread a similar conceptual path).
I enjoyed this flick because I think it’s a strong premise well realised, with performances that aren’t horror performances, but aren’t too “serious”, for lack of a more specific term. It’s out there, don’t get me wrong, and there are twists that come out of nowhere and who knows if they make that much sense, but they make sense emotionally.
The central event of Hanna’s life isn’t something we get to see, but we do hear about it. We understand, if we understand anything, that it’s not just that traumatic event, or what that event represents, but about what came before it, and what happened afterwards as well, affecting all her relationships. Pretending it never happened (especially with her parents) only makes her problems more vast. And that, as with many of us in life, the precipitating event, the trigger, the thing that can tip someone over an edge, or the edge, can be so small, so innocuous. Something as banal as pricking one’s finger accidentally with a needle.
This flick works for me because those emotional / character elements work, beyond or in tandem with the more Cronenbergian elements that come through. And the best friend with the matching tattoo (Kausar Mohammed’s performance is spectacular) leading the rescue, literally saving Hanna’s life when it matters, suits the story perfectly. Sometimes we suffer through in silence and alone, and sometimes we are saved by our friends.
It’s grand to (still) be alive sometimes, no matter the monsters we have to contend with. And while we can never have it all (perfect mental health at all times forever!), we can sometimes achieve some kind of balance.
If there’s a weak link, it could be the boyfriend, who doesn’t really get to do much, though his character’s heart is in the right place. He could be there mostly to look pretty, maybe as a bit of a trophy boyfriend, who knows?
Who really needs him when you have a best friend as awesome as Esther?
Maybe the real moral of the story is that it’s not about our created monsters, but about how our friends sometimes stop us from turning into complete monsters along the way?
8 times Appendage is way better than a flick called Appendage has any right to be out of 10
“Are you okay?”
- “Don’t touch me!” – it’s the only appropriate response when people ask you if you’re okay
on RUOK Day? - Appendage