For the last few years, Shudder has firmly established itself as the streaming destination for horror content – both old and new. With just a couple of weeks remaining in 2022, the streaming platform has delivered yet another original title for horror fans – Alison Locke’s Christmas-set The Apology. And it has been another banner year for original content from Shudder. But the announcement that the AMC Network has laid off a sizable chunk of staff at Shudder has unjustifiably put the platform’s future in jeopardy. Fingers cross that Shudder can continue to be an innovator in the horror genre. In the meantime, The Apology closes out what’s been another excellent year in horror.
For 20 years Darlene has struggled with the disappearance of her daughter, Sally, and her own alcoholism. Now sober and putting back together the pieces of her life, Darlene is preparing to host a family Christmas for the first time in years. But when her sister’s ex-husband, Jack, unexpectedly shows up on her doorstep, the night takes a shocking turn. Jack has come back with a secret and an apology that will forever change Sally’s life.
The Apology Promises an Atmospheric Cat-and-Mouse Thriller
Things start off promisingly for The Apology. Writer and director Alison Locke – making her feature-length directorial debut – initially makes the most out of her isolated winter setting. There’s an immediate establishment of atmosphere that promises claustrophobic tension. And for a good 30 minutes or so, Locke delivers on this promise. Bits of information are doled out to the audience. We quickly learn that Darlene’s daughter went missing two decades ago and that she’s spent the better part of that time clawing her way back to sobriety. Once her ex-brother-in-law shows up, The Apology doesn’t waste much time establishing that something’s not quite right.
There’s an immediate establishment of atmosphere that promises claustrophobic tension. And for a good 30 minutes or so, Locke delivers on this promise.
It’s those early interactions between Darlene and Jack where The Apology maximizes its tension. Even when Locke reveals the past romantic history between the characters, there’s a sense that something isn’t quite right. When Jack starts fishing for what Darlene would do if she found the person who took her daughter the discomfort escalates. Each passing minute grows more uncomfortable until the full extent of what’s happening reveals itself. And it’s at that point that The Apology hits a wall. At roughly its midway point, Locke puts all her cards on the table and doesn’t seem to know what to do for the rest of the movie.
The Apology Runs Out of Steam and Direction Once It Reveals Its Hand
Much of The Apology’s problems stem from its own story. Locke gives us an antagonist who doesn’t want to kill Darlene – they want absolution and death for themselves. Conversely, Locke’s protagonist, Darlene, refuses to kill to achieve justice and, even as she feels some temptation, The Apology pretty clearly establishes she won’t give in to her impulses. The result – a thriller with a killer who doesn’t want to kill and a victim who doesn’t want to fight back. In addition, The Apology limits itself to the confines of the house, failing to explore its remote setting. That is, Locke never fully exploits the claustrophobic potential inherent in her own movie. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that the conclusion feels completely underwhelming.
…The Apology limits itself to the confines of the house, failing to explore its remote setting.
Arguably, The Apology genuinely frustrates given the potential of its premise and the quality of performances. Both Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) and Linus Roache (Mandy) excel in their respective roles. Janeane Garofalo also turns up in a completely wasted role. She has so little to do in the thriller that one has to wonder why she bothered to show up. Somewhere in The Apology is a compelling feminist horror movie that addresses gaslighting and other forms of explicit – and implicit – male violence. There’s absolutely something disturbing about the ways in which Locke’s antagonist goes about making Darlene’s loss about themselves. Simply put, the concept here is good, the execution inevitably lets it down.
The Apology Has a lot of Promise, But Fails to Capitalize
There’s at least half of a compelling movie in The Apology. Before Locke reveals her full hand, she makes the most of her isolated setting and the slowly increasing tension between Gunn and Roache. But once all (or most of the cards) are revealed, Locke’s own story choices limit the direction of The Apology. Things quickly hit a wall and Locke doesn’t seem to know what to do with narrative. As a result, what should be a suspenseful cat-and-mouse thriller devolves into an underwhelming final act.