APPENDAGE l 20th Digital Studio and Hulu
Emotional disorders can affect a person’s feelings and their ability to control them, which eventually leads to anxiety, disassociation, mood swings, and even self-harm. Providing support for emotional illness varies because each patient exhibits different symptoms, but the main reason why so many people go untreated is because of the societal misunderstanding of what it feels like to actually experience an emotional disability. The immense pain and trauma which comes from emotional illness can control a person’s life, but the symptoms which occur happen only on the inside and therefore remain invisible to everyone else.

Director Anna Zlokovic decides to bring emotional disabilities to more people’s attention and she does so through the genre of horror. In her debut feature film APPENDAGE, Zlokovic takes the hidden pain and distress that comes with an emotional illness and warps it into a loathsome and conniving monster so that everyone can finally witness the unseen sufferings buried within the mind and body of a person with emotional disabilities.

Our protagonist Hannah (Hadley Robinson) looks like she was molded to fit the interior of her parent’s house. Her quiet unassuming face and bleach blonde hair practically disappear into the bland grey and yellow décor. Her parents pay no attention to her and instead talk around the poor woman. That is until Hannah steps outside of the comfortable lines of normal life. Her parents seem to be under the impression that the only thing wrong with Hannah is a bad attitude, so instead of listening to their daughter they scold her and look down on her for disrupting their perfectly constructed life.

Beyond the tiresome dinner table, Hannah also works for a demanding narcissistic boss. He requires her to work late hours and wake early, which places poor Hannah in an impossible spiral of unattainable perfection. Outside of her boring family and crushing career, Hannah’s personal life consists of an incredibly devoted boyfriend Kaelin (Brandon Mychal Smith), and a fun-loving friend, Esther (Kausar Mohammed). However, even with this strong safety net, nothing can save her from the mental and emotional pressures of life. And while Hannah’s daily struggles might not seem unique, her body begins to handle stress differently as it physically manifests her insecurities into a grotesque creature called an Appendage.

Courtesy 20th Digital Studio and Hulu

Emotional disability forces the person to place so much emphasis on their thoughts and feelings, that often their physical well-being becomes forgotten, and APPENDAGE depicts this via Hannah’s relationship with her new monstrous sidekick. Beginning as a birthmark on her ribcage, the increasing intensities of stress and pressure causes the creature buried within Hannah to grow and eventually physically protrude from Hannah’s body. When the wrinkly bastard becomes birthed from Hannah’s side, it greets its pseudo-mother with abusive remarks which surprises Hannah more than the fact she is talking to a disgusting head jutting from her side. She finds personal attacks on her character and on her abilities more upsetting than any kind of physical ailments or abnormalities. She does not seem to care how her body feels (which she demonstrates with the copious amounts of alcohol she consumes every day) but emotional abuse takes a much heavier toll on her.

Through a couple of dramatic exposition drops, the audience learns Hannah’s experience with emotional disability dates back quite a few years and even resulted in a spectacular cry for help when she was in college. Unfortunately for Hannah (and numerous people all over the world), her expected course of treatment was to just get over it and behave normally. So, instead of discussing her symptoms and communicating her needs, she instead suppresses her fearful thoughts and emotions as best she can. Because of being surrounded by so many people who just expect her to smile and move on, Hannah cannot turn to her friends (who are more than willing to help) because Hannah perceives them as happy and does not think they have ever experienced pain. Instead, Hannah turns to a support group for people with Appendages. However, that only makes the pain routine, and it still controls her life.

The monsterfication of emotional illness brings to the surface a lot of fears and feelings many people suffer every day. The pain Hannah experiences is invisible and therefore difficult for even her most caring adversaries to understand. But when a physical being bursts its way into existence, others must finally pay attention to Hannah’s disability even if they don’t want to believe it. As the Appendage grows in size and strength, the director shows how emotional illness not only takes over the life of the sufferer but eventually starts consuming others.

Originally starting as a short (which you can find on Hulu), APPENDAGE combines aspects of body horror with such classic horror films as Basketcase and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The tone of the film seems to want to balance between horror and comedy but never seems to fully embrace either, but the genuine approach to mental health makes this a stand-out movie. Depicting a very real illness with a pretty impressive practical effects boogeyman, APPENDAGE explores themes of disability such as trauma, isolation, and self-harm. Zlokovic addresses the risks of not addressing an emotional or mental disability, but also shines light on how society ignores the trauma associated with disability and how that can lead to serious danger.

APPENDAGE had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival. It will be available to stream on Hulu later this year. Make sure to check the rest of our SXSW coverage here.

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