20th Digital’s collection of shorts, Bite Size Halloween, functions as a mine for features. In January of last year, it was announced that 20th Digital would be turning several of these shorts into full-length movies to be streamed on Hulu. 2022’s Halloween season slate included such adaptations as Grimcutty and Matriarch, and Clock is expected later this year. While Clock is reserved for the Overlook Film Festival, Appendage was brought to SXSW. Appendage, adapted from the short by the same name, is writer/ director Anna Zlockovic’s answer to the question “what if your anxiety manifested as a physical monster?” … And that’s pretty much it.
Hannah (Hadley Robinson, Moxie) isn’t a bastion of self esteem. She is capable and confident enough to get her dream job and relationship, but her inner voice sometimes causes her to self-sabotage. At a particularly high-stakes time in her life, trying to get selected by her eccentric fashion designer boss for his next collection and trying to escalate her relationship to the next level, her inner voice leaps out of her in the shape of a shriveled and disgusting monster. Trying to quell the sounds of this monster’s ramblings about calamity, Hannah looks desperately for support to hold her life together. Stuffing her monster in her basement, Hannah starts to lose some control, worrying those around her and threatening to upend her life. To survive, she must learn to quiet the voice bringing her down by working to manage it. You know? Like anxiety.
Appendage’s on-the-nose metaphor loses steam really quickly, which is why it worked better as a short. It’s not so much a rich metaphor as an idea that directly announces itself through pointy practical effects teeth. Adapting a short can be rough. Each has a different goal, often serving as a proof-of-concept. This full-length adaptation tries to grow its basic premise into a full-sized monster but it doesn’t add more to its concept save for the fun of Emily Hampshire with a cool haircut in a dual role. It feels particularly rough coming on the heels of Smile which sprung from Laura Hasn’t Slept which was a much simpler story than the feature. Where Smile feels like it used the idea as a launchpad for something greater, Appendage feels like someone stretched out a short idea to get it to ninety-five minutes.
Though sometimes referred to as a horror comedy, this feature is all horror thriller. Where the short (which is pretty good!) capitalized off of Rachel Sennott’s comedic timing and a cheesy campy monster, the full-length adaptation leans farther into somber terror which is difficult to reconcile as against a silly looking beast. Hannah has something to say about the experience of having her family not understand her mental illness, and how her friends do but don’t always succeed in helping her. The cartoonish demon doesn’t bring levity to differentiate it from mental-illness-as-horror films like Hypochondriac or Smile so much as it feels incredibly out of place, making the film seem kind of strung together.
But that’s where this movie lives. These digital features don’t feel like big outings and that’s maybe by design. While only some of this slate has been released, it seems to be of the Welcome to the Blumhouse cohort more than features built to stand on their own two feet. Appendage and Grimcutty feel like creepy pastas which is welcome in the canon of eerie tales in the streaming flow, but where things like (and I’m pretty sure I said the same thing in my Grimcutty review) Channel Zero stretched tales into exciting stories, this one feels like it was stretched thin until it snapped.
Appendage played at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival and will stream on Hulu later this year