The concept of turning successful short films into full-length features is quite popular. Although, for the horror genre, it fails to work in most cases. While the short may be riveting enough and deserving of rounds of applause, the film that comes out of it seems stretched out and vapid. The most prominent example of this happening has to be the 2016 downer Lights Out, which was based on a three-minute long short that scared the hell out of even the bravest of the brave. Hulu’s latest film, Appendage, happens to be a similar case, but in reverse.
Not only does the film version work, it actually upgrades the short that was released two years ago in the very popular “Bite Size Halloween” segment. Rachel Sennott, then a relatively new face and now a breakout star, has been replaced with Hadley Robinson. Although fans of the shorts might miss Sennott in the lead role, it can be said that Robinson has done more than an adequate job. She plays Hannah, a designer who is struggling to win the approval of her boss, much like the character in the short film. What the film has added are the characters of Hannah’s parents, with whom Hannah shares a rather unpleasant relationship. It is evident that her rich, high-society parents would rather avoid their daughter’s severe mental health issues and pretend everything is fine. I thought it was a great move to shed light on such a relevant issue as bad parenting and the adverse effects it can have on a human being.
In biological terms, the word “appendage” basically means a living organism growing out of the human body. The title is very literal in the context of the film, as that’s exactly what happens to Hannah. The film doesn’t wait to get to the point. Hannah senses some kind of allergic sensation in her skin while having a very awkward dinner with her parents. That is followed by a disastrous encounter with her boss, Christian, who dismisses her work as unoriginal garbage, and her skin allergy worsens further. Moments later, Hannah has this hideous looking thing coming out of her body. She is in a state of utter shock and disbelief, understandably.
The first hour of Appendage can be perceived in two ways. One can see it in a straightforward horror where the terrible thing has actually happened to Hannah and she is dealing with the consequences of it. The other way would be to see through the upper layer and consider the appendage as a manifestation of Hannah’s insecurity. The film establishes at the very beginning that Hannah’s not doing well emotionally. She is in a fairly healthy relationship with Kailen, a guy who seems decent enough, but she has this bug inside her head that keeps telling her that Kailen might be cheating on her. And who is the person Kailen is cheating with? None other than Hannah’s best friend and colleague, Esther. Even though Esther appears to be the only person who genuinely cares about Hannah, and their friendship is solid enough to last forever, Hannah’s insecurity gets the best of her. That obviously makes her ugly appendage get stronger, making things further chaotic for our leading lady.
I really liked the kind of treatment the film has received from director Alana Zlokovic, who also directed the short. Zlokovic purposefully infuses deadpan humor and gives a darkly comic undertone to the narrative, which makes the viewing experience exciting for the viewers. Appendage also makes it a point to put the matter, no matter how ludicrous it looks, under the microscope of science and logic. That is why, despite knowing that what happened to Hannah is something that absolutely cannot happen to you under normal circumstances, you still buy it. This is the same technique that Robert and Michelle King use for their fantastic Paramount Plus horror series Evil (2019–present). It also ensures a deliciously entertaining climax for Appendage, where you get behind Hannah as she fights her appendage, which was an inevitable thing from the start.
Appendage pretty much nails it in the writing and editing department. The slickly written script never lets you relax, and it keeps bringing twists after twists so that the audience doesn’t get bored. What further helps is the crisp editing and a very compact, ninety-four minute runtime. The supporting performances are quite impressive, especially the ones of Kausar Mohammad, who plays Esther, and Emily Hampshire, who gets an opportunity to do something drastically different from her most popular role in Schitt’s Creek. Brandon Mychal Smith doesn’t have much to do other than play the clueless boyfriend, which is where Appendage kind of succumbs to conventional tropes of the genre.
Appendage is a part of “Huluween”, a horror extravaganza the channel has been doing for a while around this time of the year. October is the universal time for spooky chills and all the nasty, gory things, and Hulu’s primary motive is churning up content that can do the trick and treat the horror fans. Appendage does succeed there, but this film is actually a lot more than that. You can’t see the psychological subtext of the film. In many ways, every horror film serves as a metaphor for something. Appendage taps on Hannah’s troubled psyche and her fear of loneliness, getting judged by people, and never finding love. The only reason her appendage manages to wreak havoc and do all the damage is her self-doubt, which has crippled her since childhood. Not to mention, the parents have been anything but helpful. That’s why I thought it was a great choice for the film to make Hannah throw up on the food that was supposed to be served at her mom’s fancy party before confronting her parents and telling them to be sorry for being a disappointment. Though we can clearly understand that it is them who have failed, not Hannah.