The list of dark Christmas movies grows one longer with The Apology, an atmospheric female-centric thriller with interesting psychology revealed when the crunch comes.
Distributed by Shudder, The Apology was produced by Company X Productions, the all-female outfit behind films like Bitch (2017), Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss (2018) and No Man of God (2021), and starts off in the warm domestic setting of a cosy but remote house on a dark and stormy winter’s night.
Inside, two old friends are putting the final stages of Christmas prep together. For Darlene (Anna Gunn) it’s the first time she’s hosted the celebration since her daughter disappeared 20 years before. She’s nervous, and in reflective mood, and so anxious that, just before an unannounced knock on the front door, she was reaching for a big bottle of vodka, in spite of having been in recovery as an alcoholic for 19 years.
Her friend, Gretchen (Janeane Garofalo) has gone home but it’s OK, the guy at the door is known to Darlene. It’s Jack (Linus Roache), who, like the vodka, she hasn’t had a sniff of for a long time, since his marriage to her sister broke up acrimoniously.
His car broke down, he says, and he realised he was in her neighbourhood so he thought he’d knock on the door. Jack and Darlene chat, slightly nervously, while she tries to find some herbal tea for him – it’s a howlingly cold night – and it emerges that Darlene and Jack might have had a little bit of a thing years before while he was still married to her sister.
How much that means is moot. But other things are not. A woman whose daughter disappeared 20 years before. A man who’s suddenly re-emerged from the past. Isolation. A film called The Apology. You don’t need to be a Nobel prize winner to guess what “the apology” is going to be about.
For the benefit of those who haven’t worked it out, I’m going to continue in spoiler-free fashion, though really, once the big subject is out in the open, which comes at about 30 minutes in, the focus shifts from the plot to other considerations.
The acting, not least. Good though Anna Gunn is as the semi-fragile – but don’t bank on it – Darlene, Roache is better, though it’s a meatier role as Jack, a guy who is eminently reasonable if a touch verbose, which makes the kink in his character all the more unsettling. Darlene also later reveals a curious side of herself, when the demands of closure drive her into a showdown with Jack that is as self-flagellating as it is vengeful.
The sound designers, Unbridled Sound, get a big credit upfront and do excellent work. The wind cries and moans and howls in this movie, the snowstorm whips the wooden building. It’s genuinely nasty out there, and inside too, though for different reasons.
Directing her feature debut, Alison Locke doesn’t mess about with stylistic curlicues and puts her faith in her actors, embellishing only here and there with low and paranoid camera angles.
Really, it’s a two-hander stage play, increasing to three hands when Garofalo’s (barely used) Gretchen returns for a finale that’s almost ghoulish.
In the end it comes down to “the apology” itself, where much faith is placed in the words themselves, almost as if they were magic tokens. This logocentric aspect of the writing (also Locke) locates this as a movie made in the 21st century, in ways that the situation obtaining does not. Words in The Apology carry as much weight as deeds.
It’s a slight plot, for all its emotional weight, and there’s a hint of strain as the finish tape comes into view at bang on 90 minutes, but there is enough substance in here to be satisfying, depending on how much you like to chew. Happy Christmas!
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© Steve Morrissey 2023