Fans of plotless movies will love The Appointment, an increasingly cultish British horror from 1982. The only feature by Lindsey C Vickers, it was regularly described as lost until the British Film Institute got themselves together and released it as part of their Flipside series of under-appreciated left-fielders.
As to plot, it’s the title. There is an appointment a man (Edward Woodward) is suddenly being forced to keep for work purposes, ruining his plans to be at a key recital by his daughter, a promising violin player. The daughter (Samantha Weysom) is upset he won’t be there. His wife (Jane Merrow) looks on as he insists he’s got to go and as the daughter pouts and wheedles. The next day he does indeed go, and disaster follows.
There is slightly more to it than that, but not much – a local girl, also a promising violinist, has disappeared in a pre-credits sequence; Ian (Woodward) has picked up a car from a local garage, prompting a discussion about his daughter adoring him. More scene-setting than that Vickers doesn’t give us.
As Ian tries to sleep the night before his appointment, he is plagued by images – of rottweilers padding up to his house and then around it, of the drive the next day, when his car’s brakes will fail and he’ll end up careering down steep mountain roads with no brakes.
Meanwhile, in the next room, the daughter sleeps. It’s outside the girl’s bedroom door that the film’s most telling scene has already played out. On his way to his bedroom, dad Ian pauses by his daughter’s door. Pauses. Pauses. Inside, daughter Joanne tosses in her bed, bites her lip, looks towards the door handle… and waits.
What are these dogs padding through the house – a malevolent spirit? The girl’s onrushing hormones? Dad’s desires? Vickers draws a veil but Ian’s sleep is fitful in the extreme.
François Truffaut once complained that British films lacked poetry. Vickers seems to be on a mission to refute the statement, and builds his film with suggestions, allusions, overlays, dream sequences, flashbacks, flashforwards, premonitions, montages, photos that suddenly come to life and gothic lighting designed to unsettle.
Reality, dreams, desires, in The Appointment they all intermingle, and Vickers keeps changing his lenses to suggest the dysjunction – suddenly Ian is in close-up, then at middle distance, then close again, now further away. His DP is Brian West, who did similar disruptive things in the cult Australian classic Wake in Fright, another tale of a normal middle-class guy being introduced to primal urges and losing his grip on reality, another film that’s been re-appraised by the passing decades.
The score, by the rookie composer Trevor Jones – on his way to The Last of the Mohicans, Dark City and Notting Hill, among many others – plays along as well, with whimsical, lyrical dreamlike surges and swells designed to unsettle.
I’m not sure who did the sound design – John Midgley maybe? – but it’s also a key part of the movie, the way it, too, keeps slipping from one thing to another – the car radio, a telephone, ambient background noise suddenly high in the mix, and then not, the car growling, roadworkers’ equipment suddenly dominant, and then not. Nightmarish at worst, intrusive at the very least.
It’s a film made in post-production, collaged together, and Vickers repeatedly juxtaposes the consequential with the inconsequential to disorienting effect. So to talk of performances isn’t really that releveant. Merrow and Weysom are fine and do what they have to do, while Woodward gives another of those men-on-the-edge performances, while suggestions that the character he’s closest to – the naive police sergeant in The Wicker Man – seem about right. There’s something Ian is not quite getting, or doesn’t want to get.
For all the suggestions, the dreamscapes, the fantasies and what have you, The Appointment ends in the realm of the dynamically practical, in a situation where gravity and all the other aspects of Newtonian physics apply. Suddenly Vickers abandons imagination, suggestion and mood to reveal a man dangling, literally above an abyss. It’s a joke, the sort designed to elicit a staccato cackle.
A cautionary tale. A remarkable one-off movie.
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© Steve Morrissey 2022