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The Appointment (Lindsay C. Vickers, 1981)


Perhaps guilty of creating atmosphere for its own sake, 1981ís The Appointment nonetheless manages to succeed in weaving a creepy spell. The only feature film credited to director Lindsay C. Vickers, it almost totally eschews plot and characterization for the sake of mood. Things start out with an unsolved mystery in which a young school girl meets a shocking and entirely unpredictable fate. After providing this opening jolt, surely one of the most inexplicable in all of cinema, the film leaps forward three years. Here The Appointment settles, for a while at least, into the mundane. Ian, a father (The Wicker Manís Edward Woodward), must break the news to his daughter (who may or may not be the same girl from the opening) that he wonít be able to attend her violin recital due to a work commitment in London. From a plot perspective, the rest of the film follows his tormented journey into London. In practice, The Appointment is much stranger.


Vickers seems rather uninterested in establishing coherent continuity here. As a result, The Appointment is perhaps best described as a dream film. As it proceeds, Ianís journey becomes increasingly apparent as a descent into a private hell. His familial squabbles escalate and his dreams become tormented by visions of three vicious dogs. The director becomes increasingly interested in the environment as the film unfolds, devoting many long, unmotivated pans past the characters to the spaces that they inhabit. From time to time, a devious, unseen presence manipulates objects, impeding Ianís trip.


What this all means is uncertain in the end. The dogs and other supernatural elements that Vickers conjures might be agents of the disappointed daughter, some sort of divine punishment for Ianís minor transgression, or a purgatory devised to punish him for some uncertain sin. The Appointment offers rooms for many interpretations, and is all the more beguiling as a result. Admittedly, many of these potential explanations would feel like a cheap screenwriterís trick if they were endorsed by the film, but the insistent inconclusiveness turns clichťs into something more deeply unsettling. By the time The Appointment reaches its intense, claustrophobic conclusion, it manages to end its plot without breaking the spell cast by its narrative loose ends. Few horror movies are open-ended enough to have their atmosphere permeate even after they have ended, but The Appointment manages the feat, perhaps at the expense of logic. Thatís a small price to pay, really.



Jeremy Heilman