Single-Location Home Invasion Thriller The Apology Is More Scattered Than ScaryMovies Reviews horror movies
The frigid chill of an escalating snow storm keeps two lead characters confined to a single location in The Apology, writer-director Alison Star Locke’s debut feature. Set during Christmastime, the film ostensibly aims to achieve a creepy-cozy holiday horror ambiance—à la the 1974 blueprint Black Christmas or recent entry The Lodge—buts its capsule setting and sparse plot struggle to convey a compelling story. Even with intense performances from Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) and Linus Roache (Law & Order) guiding the action, the film would be far more effective as a taut short than a filled-out feature.
Preparing to host her first Christmas dinner in two decades, former alcoholic Darlene (Gunn) has much more to worry about than serving up the perfect holiday feast. This Christmas also marks the twentieth one she’s endured since the disappearance of her 16-year-old daughter Sally, who, in her grief-stricken naivete, she still hopes to reunite with one day. Despite the support of her best friend Gretchen (a tragically under-utilized Janeane Garofalo), the weight of this depressing anniversary nearly drives Darlene to fall off the wagon. Just as she’s about to imbibe her secret liquor stash, though, an unexpected guest arrives. Her estranged brother-in-law Jack (Roache) pops by for a visit (inspired in part by car trouble), offering what at first seems like much-needed company on a blue Christmas Eve. Yet Jack seems oddly invested in dredging up old memories of Sally and the mystery that’s long haunted their family, rather than taking Darlene’s mind off of these dark thoughts. As the film’s title suggests, Jack has a confession to make—and the raging blizzard, severed landline and inexplicably absent cell phones trap the two in a grisly standoff fueled by rage, remorse and vengeance.
The Apology starts strong before it begins to fizzle. The threads it begins to weave together—of the real-world impact of true crime content, the fear of being a “bad” mother, the validity of vigilantism—tie into worthwhile cultural inquiries. However, these themes are largely discarded to make room for an uninspired game of cat and mouse. Even as the power dynamic oscillates between Darlene and Jack, it becomes increasingly clear that the film is only interested in serving up the same tepid platitudes about patriarchal violence against women. At the same time, lacking the boldness of cathartic revenge-thriller fantasy, The Apology adopts a baffling approach that adheres to bland notions of “working within the system” to attain proper justice. If the film isn’t committed to exploring the thorny truth of cold cases being churned into consumable content, why should it be restricted by moral righteousness as it’s laid out by our deeply flawed judicial system?
For a home invasion thriller that involves a decent amount of physical struggle, there’s also a bizarre lack of blood drawn between the two leads. This isn’t to say the film is completely devoid of violence, as the detailed narration of what really happened to Darlene’s daughter is chillingly effective, all the more so when Locke opts against revealing Sally’s fate via flashback. But having the bulk of Darlene and Jack’s interaction predicated on “talking out” a grotesque, violent transgression translates into nothing more than a mutually traumatizing (and largely predictable) therapy session. Particularly in contrast to Inside, a similarly yuletide-set home inversion horror film that finds a (albeit heavily pregnant) mother fighting for her life in the wake of a tragic loss, The Apology doesn’t do enough to keep the enclosed quarters both claustrophobic and perpetually threatening—nor does it adequately heighten the stakes in its attachment to a bewilderingly pacifistic attitude. While there’s nothing wrong with Locke’s apparent resistance to depicting excessive violence against women, there’s no fun in watching a protagonist effortlessly outsmart her opponent at every turn. It would give off Home Alone vibes—if the new movie was more violent..
Though gratuitous bloodshed should never be the sole benchmark for a successful genre film, The Apology doesn’t offer much else in terms of incentivizing audience investment. Gunn and Roache liven up the script as best as they can, but there’s not enough narrative for them to work with. Locke could have easily created a 20-minute short that keeps the tension ratcheting up, rather than falling into extended lulls. While many find the holidays to be melancholy periods reserved for remembering loved ones who are no longer present to celebrate with us, few will find themselves lingering on The Apology’s muddled musings on grief when the credits begin to roll.
Director: Alison Star Locke
Writer: Alison Star Locke
Stars: Anna Gunn, Linus Roache, Janeane Garofalo
Release Date: December 16, 2022 (RLJE Films/Shudder)
Natalia Keogan is Filmmaker Magazine’s web editor, and regularly contributes freelance film reviews here at Paste. Her writing has also appeared in Blood Knife Magazine, SlashFilm and Daily Grindhouse, among others. She lives in Queens with her large orange cat. Find her on Twitter @nataliakeogan