“The Apology” – A Traumatic and Tense Christmas Thriller [Review]

Christmas is a time for family, but it can also be a time for intense stress.  No movie combines family drama and intense trauma quite like Shudder’s latest exclusive film The Apology.  Starring Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad), Linus Roache (Batman Begins, Mandy), and Janeane Garofalo (Mystery Men), The Apology is definitely more of a drama/thriller than straight up horror film.  But it’s masterfully written, acted, and directed, with incredible tension.

Christmas Blizzard
On a snowy and windy Christmas Eve, Darlene (Gunn) and Gretchen (Garofalo) prepare for the next day’s festivities while the topic of Darlene’s missing daughter comes up on the news, given that it’s the 20th anniversary of her disappearance.  We learn that 20 years earlier, Darlene’s 16 year old daughter went missing, but she’s never given up searching for her.

After Gretchen leaves, Darlene gets an unexpected visitor, her ex-brother in law Jack (Roache).  He tells her that his car has broken down and the two of them reminisce as they haven’t really associated since he divorced her sister years prior.  We learn that Jack and Darlene had once had a romantic past, which further complicates all of their feelings.

Apology 1
The first 15 minutes do a great job of establishing the baggage and history between them, without ever feeling like it’s exposition dumping. All the dialogue feels very natural.

Sins of the Past
At first it seems like two old friends catching up with quite a few elephants in the room via decades of drama.  But things take a very dark turn when Jack begins to discuss Darlene’s missing daughter.  Unfortunately, that’s all we can really say without spoiling this movie entirely.  But it does very successfully pull off a drastic shift in tone from lighthearted awkwardness to downright sinister at the drop of a hat.

In a lot of ways, this film feels like a stage play, and that’s meant as a genuine compliment.  The entire thing takes place in this one house, with the blizzard outside serving as the perfect vehicle for isolation, as well as a visual representation of the cold tension going on inside.

This is very much an “actor’s movie” so to speak, with the focus being on Gunn and Roache’s dramatic performances.  Anna Gunn had already proved her stellar acting chops as Skyler White on Breaking Bad, and it’s very much on display here as well.  She runs through the gamut of raw human emotion and rightfully so given what she’s going through.

And she has an excellent scene partner to bounce off of with Linus Roache.  Mostly known for small “character actor” roles, he’s absolutely amazing at playing a character that’s despicable, but interesting.  He reveals some pretty terrible things and goes to some very dark places, but the whole time there’s still a sense of humanity to him.

Apology 3
It’s not easy to play a character like this, and it’s even harder to make the character feel human.

Overall, The Apology is a hauntingly tense character-driven thriller whose bleak subject matter stands in stark contrast to its Christmas setting (which is very much the point).  It’s mostly two characters talking in a room, but it keeps you gripped for its runtime, never leaving you feeling bored!

What did you think of The Apology?  Let us know in the comments!

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