The Apology (2022) Review

The flood of sinister Christmas-themed films continues with The Apology, a thriller about Darlene Hagen (Anna Gunn, Red State, Sully). She’s a recovering alcoholic and, with some help from her best friend Gretchen (Janeane Garofalo, Lava, Wet Hot American Summer), is hosting the family festivities for the first time in twenty years. But tonight she’s struggling to maintain that sobriety.

Twenty years ago her daughter Sally (Holland Bailey, Manifest West, Supper for Civilised Girls) disappeared. In the years since, there has been explanation or evidence that might offer even a suggestion as to what happened to her. Now, with a storm whipping up outside her former brother-in-law Jack (Linus Roache, Division 19, Mandy) whom she hasn’t spoken to in nineteen years turns up with gifts and a dark secret.

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The Apology is the first feature for writer/director Alison Star Locke (My Mom’s Just Not That Into Me, Shhhhhhh…) and she’s picked a deceptively simple-looking project for her debut. One location and a very small cast, three characters with just two Jack and Darlene on screen for much of the film’s length. As you may have guessed, Garofalo’s Gretchen has rather limited screen time, appearing at the beginning of the film and disappearing until the final act.

Everything starts simply enough. Jack turns up with a plausible excuse for wanting to be there for Christmas and Darlene agrees, on the condition he clears it with her sister, which he seems a bit hesitant to do. It doesn’t take long before the first of several secrets is revealed, Darlene was sleeping with her sister’s husband. Or Jack was sleeping with his wife’s sister, if you prefer.

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By this point, The Apology felt more like a film that was heading for Lifetime rather than Shudder. But then things take a much darker turn when he brings up Sally. Given the film’s plot, we know what the next reveal is going to be, but Locke does a good job of drawing the inevitable out and raising the film’s level of tension.

A lot of credit goes to Gunn and Roache who deliver excellent performances, her shock turning into horror as he calmly relates what happened twenty years ago. Roache gives Jack’s rationalizations and attempts to minimize his actions a believably sociopathic edge. This back-and-forth helps The Apology keep the viewer’s interest, despite only occasional bursts of action throughout its first hour.

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The last half hour does deliver some action, but The Apology is more about mood and tension than physical confrontation, despite what the trailer wants you to believe. And for once I didn’t feel overly let down by that fact, the script was tight enough that I wasn’t sure who would come out on top. Or, if it was Darlene, if she would call the police or take matters into her own hands. That decision is a little more complicated than it might appear, which adds another variable to the equation.

A tightly wound and briskly paced thriller, The Apology will probably leave Shudder’s more hard-core horror fans unimpressed. But viewers who can appreciate a film based on tension and suspense should appreciate the way the script sets up two almost equally matched adversaries and lets the advantage shift back and forth. Topped off with excellent acting and some nice work from cinematographer Jack Caswell (Adventure Force 5, Archenemy) it’s an unexpected Christmas treat.

RLJE Films will release The Apology in theatres and streaming on AMC+ and Shudder on December 16th. And if you’re looking for more films like The Apology, FilmTagger can help you out.

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