The Apology Star Linus Roache and its Director Discuss the Anna Gunn Thriller

Jan 19, 2023

The Apology is a fascinating film which intentionally abandons the structures of suspense that hold up most thrillers. Instead of constructing a mystery based on withholding information, The Apology quickly reveals who the primary antagonist is; rather than making him a pure villain who needs to be hunted down, all he wants to do is apologize and explain himself. These are two things that would cripple most psychological thrillers, but writer/director Alison Star Locke sheds the conventions of the genre in order to explore two characters with great depth, and navigate the nature of trauma, forgiveness, and narrative.

With only three actors, The Apology is a chamber drama of sorts, warmed under the glow of hazy Christmas lights, entrapped by a snowstorm, and driven by excellent performances. Anna Gunn (the unfairly villainized Skyler from Breaking Bad) plays Darlene, a woman who has spent 20 years mourning the disappearance of her daughter, and who is now set to host her family for Christmas dinner. After her neighbor (the always delightful Janeane Garofalo) helps her with dinner on Christmas Eve, Darlene is paid a visit by her estranged brother-in-law Jack (a magnificent Linus Roache), who has arrived under false pretenses in order to deliver some shocking news about her daughter.

What transpires is a tense psychodrama where the suspense manifests directly from the characters themselves. Locke and Roache spoke with MovieWeb about the unique plot, complicated characters, and Christmas setting.

Alison Star Locke Explores Motherhood

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Locke has made some short films, also tangentially about motherhood, but The Apology is her feature debut. This film about a grieving mother is a personal project for her, written after Locke’s daughter was diagnosed with severe autism. “Of course, your child having autism is a lightyear from the horror of a missing child,” wrote Locke in her production notes, “but for me, The Apology is a metaphor for sticking up for my girl, and for myself, and finding my own voice again. That feeling of keeping up the fight when it feels impossibly hard is a universal one.”

“It really was a very healing process to feel like I’ve got my voice again,” said Locke, “after all of those years being there for her, trying to advocate for her, to make sure people are seeing her, and giving her the support that she needs. It was very healing and very emotional, but also, motherhood has become a chief obsession of mine when it comes to writing.” Locke continued:

I love Judith Weston, she writes up these terrific books about directing, and something that she wrote in there really emboldened me, where she was like, directors or creative people in general should feel comfortable acknowledging their obsessions, and just continue to pursue them. That’s part of what people respond to, is something that you are personally fascinated by, and I feel like motherhood is so rarely depicted in this way. It’s usually all about either the positivity, or mom is a big addict, one of the two. So I wanted to see somebody who was a lot more complex than all that.

The Apology Strips Away Plot Devices for Deeper Reasons

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As the night goes on, Darlene and Jack’s conversation becomes increasingly dark, with revelations about the past sending Darlene into a tailspin. Instead of teasing out the mystery or playing coy, The Apology quickly gets to the point, allowing for character-based suspense to play out. For Locke, it was always about these characters, not the plot devices.

“For me, the big fascination was — what is the relationship between these two people, and always grounding it in the reality of what they need from each other at that moment,” explained Locke. “That was kind of my general principle around how to do that, looking at suspense in a very grounded, character-driven way rather than trying to hit the plot points that are more typically seen in these sorts of thrillers, which I love personally, but just wasn’t what was interesting to me about this story […] I kept saying, we want this film to be about real people. We want it to feel grounded in this way.”

Related: How Today’s Scariest Movies Use the Real-Life Traumas of Women

What was it exactly that was interesting to Locke about the story? Ultimately, it comes down to an exploration of real people grappling with not just personally emotional issues, but culturally painful and important ones as well regarding violence against women. The Apology is very much about how forgiveness is not always enough, and how there’s little meaning to an apology in the absence of accountability. “I was trying to think about all of these girls and women who have been lost and who society looks at as so disposable, and keeping that as a sort of North Star. Thinking about not just their loss, but what has led to a culture that is so violent towards women? Why do so many men sort of feel enabled or emboldened to care more about their own feelings or their self-image than someone’s life?”

Linus Roache Takes on a Different Kind of Villain

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The role of Jack embodies these questions and is extremely complicated as a result. Roache (Law and Order, Vikings, Homeland, My Policeman), however, took it on with everything he had. “That was my favorite thing about working with Linus, was that I could be so frank with him about that discussion,” said Locke. “It’s difficult, of course, for all of us to look inward and think about how can we change, how can we become a better person. We were trying to ground Jack in that pursuit, as twisted and obviously not straightforward as that is, but just that in his mind, he thinks that’s what he’s doing, he thinks he’s trying to make it right. But of course, you don’t do that by going into somebody’s house in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve.”

“Credit goes to Alison Star Locke, because she wrote this piece, and this was all there,” said Roache. “The heart of the story is that theme, what does it take for someone to be accountable and take responsibility for their actions? In the beginning, when I read it, I thought, ‘Wow, this is intense, how am I going to go there?’ I’d spent quite a bit of time focusing on what Jack had done, and what that would have done to him, how he would live with it, and what his life was like, sort of building a history of the 19 years since he knocks on the door on Christmas Eve.” Then Roache had a revelation of his own. He explained:

It was actually my wife who helped me see that, really, his pathology is that he can only see himself as a good guy, or not a bad man. Out of self-preservation, he’s rewritten the history of what happened, that it was an accident. So he’s so steeped in that thinking, and it’s that pathology that actually gave me the anchor, if you like. And then Darlene has to just keep trying to break through to get through and sort of get him to face reality. I think that’s the premise, and that was the journey. That’s what makes it interesting […] that she just keeps having to fight her way through the armor to get any semblance of honesty, and even then, if he does show some, how real is it? Because that’s how pathological and how much in denial this character is.

Locke and Roache Create Sympathy for the Devil in The Apology

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Jack is an extremely fascinating character, an antagonist who stands distinctly separate from the usual villains in cinematic history. Despite having done something awful and remaining pathologically compelled to believe it was an accident and that he’s actually a good guy, Jack comes across sympathetically, albeit pathetically. Yes, he’s trying to shape Darlene’s narrative, but he is so filled with misplaced love and utter confusion that it’s hard not to view him tragically.

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“I think it’s my responsibility as a writer to always have sympathy for all of my characters. I think that was something that I had to constantly resist from other folks on the team, who were all smart, amazing folks, but sometimes someone would kind of say, ‘Well, yeah, but Jack is a bad guy.’ I would feel personally attacked a little bit,” laughed Locke. In many ways, the character of Jack and The Apology itself are both a consequence of the Me Too era but also a corrective of certain aspects of it. “We all lose out, men and women lose out, in the way that we currently look at gender and our roles.” Locke elaborated:

If you talk about wanting change in terms of the way that violence against women is talked about, the way that toxic masculinity is talked about, how to be allies, how to be healthy human beings, if you want to really do that, I think you have to come at it from a place of sympathy. I was fascinated through the whole process by thinking, “What would have led someone to do something like this?” Because it was the most horrific thing I could think of. So then the challenge was, how does somebody get there? […] Linus really was so terrific, constantly trying to be curious about him and trying to ground him in that way. It was really beautiful work.

Linus Roache: “Accountability and Compassion Are Not Mutually Exclusive”

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Anna Gunn is a force of nature in the film as Darlene, with a convulsive, intense, and epic performance that brings to mind Gena Rowlands at her most intense. It’s a tricky performance to nail because the character of Jack is a difficult person to play off of and pin down. He loves Darlene dearly, and she’s had feelings for him, but she also now feels threatened by him and develops a fear and loathing purer than the falling snow. The way that the love between these characters transforms, and what it morphs into, is fascinating.

“I think he does love her, but I think it’s quite selfish and superficial. It’s not like she really is ‘the one,’ it’s more like he was using that relationship to avoid what had happened,” said Roache. “So that’s his way of making himself feel better, too. So his motives are very self-centered […] That’s part of the beauty and the complexity, I suppose. That’s what we do as human beings, isn’t it? We defer things on to other people. It’s completely unrealistic, but nevertheless, these are true human emotions.”

“Look, there’s nothing that can be condoned,” continued Roache. “He’s quite an awful, awful character, but he’s still worthy of our understanding. He is a human being, and accountability and our compassion are not mutually exclusive, so my job was to make it really human.” The result is a deeply compassionate yet nonetheless gripping thriller about some of the most complicated emotions and experiences there are — grief, forgiveness, closure, hatred, and responsibility. It’s human, all too human.

From RLJE Films, The Apology will be in theaters and streaming simultaneously on Shudder and AMC+ on December 16th.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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