Horror Film Turns Trauma Into an Evil Twin

Hulu’s horror-comedy Appendage has definitely gone to therapy before. The film follows a budding fashion designer named Hannah (Hadley Robinson) whose unresolved childhood trauma begins to literally grow into a monster bent on ruining her life. Is it subtle? Absolutely not. Then again, how many evil-twin horror-comedies are?

You don’t have to have done much (or any) therapy to have heard about the infamous “inner critic”—a relentless, nasty little voice that lives in our heads to bleat out our every shortcoming and failure on a loop. Appendage makes that voice literal. Writer-director Anna Zlokovic first unveiled “Appendage” as a Huluween short in 2021, with stars Rachel Sennott and Eric Roberts.

The new film fleshes out the story and adds a delicious twist at the end, but its principal achievement is its creature work. Hannah’s appendage is a bloody, perpetually slimy, pointy-toothed, milky-eyed menace with a Gremlin-like voice who calls her an “unoriginal piece of shit.” As it becomes more powerful, the appendage’s form becomes all the more revolting.

When we first meet Hannah, she’s a nervous mess; she’s about to present a new design to her boss, Christian (Desmin Borges), whose exacting nature can border on sadism thanks to his extremely harsh delivery. (“You know what you have?” he murmurs in Hannah’s ear—a moment that also echoes the original short. “What’s it called?… It’s like when you think that you came up with a totally original idea, but in actuality, you fucking stole it from someone else.”)

Hannah’s social life is solid, if a little limited; she works with her bubbly best friend, Esther (Kausar Mohammed) and she’s got a real hunk of a boyfriend, Kaelin (Brandon Mychal Smith). Once her appendage starts growing, however, Hannah’s world starts to look a lot uglier. It doesn’t take long for her to lose herself almost entirely.

If all of this is sounding a little obvious, that’s because it is. Like last year’s Smile and fellow SXSW debut Hypochondriac, the film wears its mental health focus on its sleeve. At one point, another person who shares Hannah’s affliction tells her, “We think appendages grow from something deep inside us. Something unknowable and painful.

It’s a combination of unpredictable factors—this period in your life, this particular thing happening, your inability to deal with it at that moment in time.” (Gee, what could this metaphor be about?) Unlike those other takes on this formula, however, Appendage leans into the comedic side of self-loathing by making the physical manifestation of Hannah’s inner voice as grotesque as possible.

The creature design here is both horrifying and delightfully silly. When we first meet the appendage, it looks like some sort of unholy hybrid—like if Dead Baby Voldemort had a baby with a bald Treasure Troll doll. Its voice is raspy and reptilian, and its skin is slick and sticky-looking. As the baby evolves from a Mr. Potato Head-like growth on Hannah’s side into a fully autonomous creature, it only gets scarier from there. (Just wait until you see how it feeds.)

At times, Appendage can feel a little slight; it’s hard not to wish for just a little more depth from our principal characters, who feel like vehicles for the film’s ideas and plot more than actual people. In the end, however, the genius monster design, the diabolical final twist, and one excellent performance from Schitt’s Creek actress Emily Hampshire earn the film’s lean 94-minute runtime.

Hampshire plays Claudia, whom Hannah meets at a support group for people like her, advertised on a forum site called “Reddot.” Hampshire’s shifty charisma is a seamless match for the role—enough so that she almost steals the show. She and Borges, who previously starred on You’re the Worst, seem to understand their assignments the best; both actors lean into their comedy backgrounds while playing off-kilter characters. The same cannot be said for all of their co-stars, some of whom struggle to strike a memorable chord. Then again, not every character in this film gets much to work with.

While Hannah’s devolution is clearly sketched and compellingly gross, her characterization feels thin. Robinson excellently portrays the physical manifestations of her character’s struggles—constant finger picking, compulsive head rubbing, and a general habit of fidgeting—but the material she’s been given sometimes works against her. The dialogue can be a little wooden, and her backstory a little contrived. In these moments, one wishes the film might’ve leaned a little more heavily into the campiness of its premise, or taken its central themes just one step further.

All in all, however, Appendage moves quickly enough that its thinner spots become forgivable after the payoff of its final twist. Beyond the monster design, the film’s greatest feat is the comedy it derives from what could be a dour subject. Appendage understands how absurd it can feel to be at war with yourself, and it makes that feeling palpable. Dermatologists might see a lot of horrifying conditions, but this really is one for the books.

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