‘The Apology’ Is A Grisly And Shocking Christmas Tale [Review]
The Apology is Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden with some grim Christmas cheer thrown in for good measure. Alison Star Locke, in her directorial debut, is considerably less interested in conventional home invasion thrills, in large part because the invader here isn’t an uninvited guest—he’s family. With The Apology, Locke accomplishes a lot with a little, rendering this a yuletide morality play that dredges up sorrow and tension in equal measure.
Darlene Hagen (Anna Gunn) at first appears to be ripped directly from the bereaved woman filmic playbook. She’s a recovering alcoholic, grappling not only with the first Christmas dinner she’s hosted in 20 years, but also the undercurrent of her daughter Sally’s disappearance. Janeane Garofalo appears briefly as friend Gretchen, a wise-cracking, infinitely supportive pal whose purpose in life seems to be keeping Darlene on track. As their Christmas Eve preparations wind down, Gretchen heads home (in a remarkably troubling blizzard), and Darlene settles in for an evening with the ghosts of her past. Then, someone knocks on the door. Cue The Apology.
A knock is a horror staple. They’re enduringly effective, the hollow echo of fist on wood frame, and here, it augurs not just the arrival of Darlene’s brother-in-law Jack (Linus Roache), but something considerably more sinister as well. At first pleasant—Jack remarks having ostensibly been stranded after his car broke down—Darlene is quick to note the conspicuous overcompensation. He’s cryptically remorseful, comes bearing nostalgic gifts, and waxes poetic about literature and their brief affair twenty years prior. Of course, he has one other nagging secret he’s just about dying to get off his chest.
From the synopsis and staging—The Apology is very much a two person show—it’s not exactly surprising what Jack has to reveal. After all, it occurs just over a third into the movie. Locke’s strength as both director and storyteller comes not from the inundation of twists and reversals so common in locked room thrillers, but rather in the unvarnished, raw emotive power of her two leads. Where The Apology’s plot coasts easily from A to B, Roache and Gunn especially keep The Apology grounded, relishing the opportunity to cull from dark places, deposing the other with such grace and prowess, they remain eminently, heartbreakingly watchable.
The explicit genre elements prove less effective, curiously harkening to another winter bound domestic thriller from several years ago—Knuckleball. Like The Apology, that movie traded in tawdry, unsavory secrets. Additionally, both were more effective at generating tension than paying it off. The score from composer Uèle Lamore is as discordant as ever, a pit in the stomach that expertly augments the growing desperation of the situation. Jack Caswell’s cinematography is appropriately desolate. Locke herself makes use of effective blocking to convey the ever-shifting power dynamics as both Darlene and Jack endeavor to get what they want from the other.
The Apology isn’t anywhere near as ruthless as it might at first appear to be. For that, audiences might be better served checking out this year’s No Exit. Still, The Apology is appropriately grisly. It is a fascinating chamber piece about regret, secrets, and the sins that can never be taken back. And, for all the actual guns at play, it’s Gunn herself whose fearless, gut-wrenching performance renders The Apology one of the better high-concept indies in recent years.
The Apology will be released by RLJE Films on December 16 in theaters and will stream on Shudder and AMC+ simultaneously.
The Apology is a grisly, effective chamber thriller with little to actually apologize for.