Hannah has an ugly part of herself, hidden from the world, chained up in the basement of her apartment building. It looks like a smashed-up jellybean with googly eyes and slimy skin; like “E.T.” with all of the joy stomped out; like a mental health crisis at full tilt. This thing also talks with a sinister low-and-high voice, and what it says to Hannah isn’t so nice: “You can’t connect with anyone. You’re a self-obsessed, pathetic freak. I know you very well. I’ll protect you.”
This monster—her appendage—should know Hannah so well, given that it tore itself out from a birthmark on Hannah’s side early into this movie’s freaky fun, and it carries the DNA of an unborn twin. Among many savvy choices, writer/director Anna Zlokovic employs puppet work to make it visceral and also a bit silly. It’s all part of this Hulu horror-comedy’s giddy self-awareness, a comically freaky look at the inner voices we must learn to live with.
Hannah is a fashion designer speeding toward burn-out, thanks in part to the toxic environment of her snooty boss, Cristean (Desmin Borges), and his unquenchable standards. She works with her friend Esther (Kausar Mohammed), and they both have tattoos of a pulse, a succinct, meaningful image of how dedicated they are to each other’s well-being. But that bond is tested by the doubt in her head: not only is Hannah invested in trying to satisfy a toxic boss, but she starts to think that her six-month boyfriend, Kaelin (Brandon Mychal Smith), is cheating on her with Esther. Add her tension with her mother Stacy (Deborah Rennard), with whom she hides her true mental problems, and out bursts Hannah’s appendage, trying to steer Hannah mentally and later physically.
In one of the story’s many amusing developments, it turns out that Hannah is very much not alone. She soon meets other people with appendages who can silence them daily using a serum. Among this group, she meets the sleek Claudia (Emily Hampshire), who fashions herself in all black and as not being like this batch of normies. Hannah thinks Claudia is her cool confidant, but that becomes another hazardous relationship once Hannah’s appendage gains more power, and joins a larger appendage conspiracy.
Zlokovoic’s tone confidently moves between sincere emotional beats and horror-comedy, her story’s expanding scope taking after ‘80s directors like John Carpenter and Larry Cohen. Like with their grimy classics, the far-out genre pieces here are ways to highlight the story’s psychology, and then go deeper than a serious, less gooey project could. Zlokovic keeps the story active and slimy by always propping up its strangeness, including how Hannah’s appendage is one of many in the world and that it has more powers that are best revealed by the story itself. And like with a scene that uses close-ups and escalating edits to make Hannah picking at her nails as visceral as possible, “Appendage” knows how to up its grossness without becoming staid.
The twists in Zlokovic’s script are sometimes more clever than the sequence that then follows, but “Appendage” never loses sight of the relationships at stake. It helps that the performances are so strong—especially Robinson, whose increasing power parallels the script’s playful weirdness—and that Zlokovic’s dialogue often has a bite to it. Hannah has one acutely fashioned scene with her mother, who seems angry most of all that Hannah previously put her through such grief. “Did you overthink what it feels like to want to do that to yourself?” Hannah asks, trying to reveal a pain that previously led to a suicide attempt. “No,” her mother replies, the tears in her eyes preventing her from seeing her daughter’s barest self: “Because I’m not f**ked up.”
Delivered with intriguing care from debut director Zlokovic, these tearful moments aren’t just a director showing off some budding dramatic chops, they’re the grease to this movie’s mid-size roller coaster ride. Unlike Hannah, this movie has a great relationship with its appendage—it knows when to use it for gross-out body horror humor or a bit of drama that cuts to the core. Just in time for Hulu’s hosting of the “Leprechaun” movies (including “Leprechaun 4: In Space”), Zlokovic has fashioned a charming monster of her own, one directly related to her promising talent.
Now playing on Hulu.
Hadley Robinsonas Hannah
Emily Hampshireas Claudia
Kausar Mohammedas Esther
Annie Pisapiaas Florence
Craig Kolkebeckas Fred
- Anna Zlokovic
- Anna Zlokovic
- Powell Robinson
- Alex Familian
- Nick Chuba