‘The Appearance’: not quite a horror film, not quite something else

A well-intentioned church official in Middle Ages Europe must uncover the truth about an accusation of witchcraft. But what if the accused “witch” really is a “witch”? And what if her past ordeals make her story a sympathetic one?

That’s the general setup for The Appearance (2018). Mateho the Inquisitor (Jake Stormoen), and his assistant (Kristian Nairn, of “Game of Thrones” fame) are called to a remote monastery to investigate a series of gruesome murders, and to interrogate the teenage ‘witch’ (Baylee Self) who has been accused of the crimes.

At first, The Appearance seems to be a dark murder mystery. But then things go wrong, and the film becomes a horror flick patterned loosely on The Exorcist, but much weaker sauce.

The claustrophobic setting of the monastery offered a lot of potential, but the script never really exploits it. There are moments of genuine suspense, but these occur between long, slow stretches.

There is one scene in which a monk’s eyes are literally ripped out. Whenever a movie contains gratuitous sex or gore, that’s usually a sign that the moviemakers weren’t sure what they were doing, or wanted to do. While the gore here is certainly gross, the over-the-top nature of it jolts the viewer out of the film. It comes across as somewhat cheesy.

(Small spoiler alert.) The Appearance closes with a “surprise” that you’ve seen versions of in the past. So it really isn’t that much of a surprise. I won’t tell you exactly what it is.

It appears, however, that the creators of this movie felt obligated to inject a social message: the mistreatment of women in the Middle Ages, and the Catholic Church’s contradictory views on femininity and sexuality. These are neither invalid nor unworthwhile themes. But they’ve been covered more adeptly in other recent works, such as James Carroll’s 2019 novel, The Cloister. The way the ending comes about, the “message” of The Appearance seems tacked on and almost random.

Bottom line: this is an okay movie, but it lacks an overall coherency. After watching it, I was unclear of what the filmmakers envisioned. A horror movie? A mystery? The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Exorcist? I wasn’t sure.

Finally, The Appearance, at nearly two hours, is a little overlong. The script doesn’t justify that much time. This should have been an 80- to 90-minute film.

**View The Appearance on Amazon**