The Apology – Interview with Writer/Director Alison Locke

"The Apology" Interview
The Apology (2022): After her daughter's disappearance twenty years ago, Darlene (Anna Gunn) has an unannounced late-night visit from her estranged ex-brother-in-law, Jack (played by Linus Roache), who needs to stay the night. The following interview is with Alison Locke, the writer/director of the thriller feature film The Apology, which has been released to theaters and streaming simultaneously on Shudder and AMC+ beginning December 16th.

The film's premise is an intriguing one. Can you tell us about your inspiration and driving force for The Apology?

I was always fascinated with true crime stories and one night, I had a dream about a man knocking on my door in the middle of the night and saying, “I know what happened to your daughter.” I woke up and started working through: who are these people, and what is their relationship to each other? And as I wrote, I realized it was becoming a metaphor for advocating for my daughter, who has autism. While the two experiences are lightyears apart, of course, I related to many of the details regarding bureaucratic obstacles and the core emotion of wanting to do everything you can for your child: to the point of obsession.

It was refreshing to see Jack's character having human qualities — expressing his emotions, fears, and desires narcissistically, matching the crime he commits in the film. What was the screenwriting process like for The Apology?

I started with this need to have these two characters, who are typically martyr/hero and monster/villain, presented as fully-fleshed out people. I always try to see each of my characters this way, to really get to know them. I write long character bios, make them playlists, and keep letting them evolve through the rewriting process. It felt important to not call Jack “a bad guy” or a “monster,” because othering people is always dangerous. If we just think someone like Jack is evil, we don’t have to face the many factors that contribute to making someone this destructive and entitled. We all have narcissists in our lives. Toxic masculinity and the tragedy of gender expectations are two big factors, but it’s got to come from a grounded place.

Well done on the cast — Anna Gunn and Linus Roache played off each other well. Plus Janeane Garofalo is great. What was the casting process like for The Apology?

It was definitely a group effort between myself and my producing team. I knew we needed actors who were not only excellent but also down to play in my very dark sandbox. With each of my actors, it was an immediate bond and willingness to explore the tough themes I was driven by. I’m still in shock at my good fortune to make my first features with actors, not only this outstanding but this curious and brave.

What were the influences for the visuals of The Apology — what was it like working with the Cinematographer Jack Caswell?

Jack Caswell is so passionate and precise. He really cares about both respecting and inspiring his team and creating beautiful scenes. I had pulled hundreds of images and had a big, nerdy list of references and then in my conversations with Jack, we found ourselves zeroing in on a few big ones. Renaissance paintings for the big negative spaces and sculpting light from minimal sources. “Prisoners” for the overall look and coolness contrasting with warmth. “Revolutionary Road” for its emotional ruthlessness and going back to basics to give our actors room to focus on being in the moment. “The Shining” for its formal framing and primary colors, and all that great menace. “The Night of the Hunter” and other film noirs for the basement and Darlene’s bedroom sequences. “Black Christmas” for the use of the colored lights and exteriors and remembering our themes. “A Woman Under the Influence” for the way the characters moved through the house, the doorframes and furniture constantly trapping them. I had done a full shot list and storyboards before Jack came on board, and then I found myself just tossing those out to see what would come out of that prep work and my conversations with him. On set, we had such limited time, we had to keep evolving our plan, but Jack was amazing at knowing which more complicated shots were worth the push. I’m so grateful to him.

What are your favorite scenes in The Apology — while on the set filming and in the final cut?

My favorite is probably the foyer fight scene, where it’s almost like a married couple fighting, but it’s about this awful, violent act. Originally, it took place over 3-4 rooms, but the night before, after brainstorming with the team, I compressed it all into this one scene, and I’m still so lit up by it. I also really love the titular scene toward the end. All three actors really understood the solemnity of the moment, and even though it was emotionally grueling for everyone to shoot it over two days, it is just what I hoped it would be. It feels so earned and has just the right driving force to it: that at the end of this long night, this insane fairy tale of a story, she ultimately gets what she needs from him by appealing to him for help. as someone who matters to him, even though that’s all so twisted and complicated.

Where was the movie filmed, and how long was principal photography?

The movie was filmed in Los Angeles over 16 principal photography days, with 1 day in Wisconsin (standing in for Minnesota) for exteriors. It was quite the fun challenge to create the snowstorm in L.A.

The score for The Apology — can you please tell us how it came to be?

I believe our Music Supervisor, Jacob Nathan, suggested Uèle Lamore, although it could’ve been my Producer Kim Sherman or my Post Producer Adam Pray. And right away, I thought her work was the music of my dreams. And then we met and she is just so calm and yet wildly creative. We had great fun talking through my ambitions for melding sound design with this setting and storm into the score, about getting big and weird and operatic and incorporating a female voice into the score — as so much of the story is about Sally’s lost voice, and how Darlene feels she’s lost her own voice/purpose. Uèle just ran with it and we were all in awe of her and her big swings.

Which films/directors have influenced you as a filmmaker, including The Apology?

“Running On Empty” and “Gas Food Lodging” really made me see myself and my loved ones in them, and that I could make movies about people like me. Some of my favorite directors are Ingmar Bergman, Chantal Akerman, Wes Craven, Richard Linklater, Jordan Peele, John Cassavetes, John Sayles, Eric Rohmer, Amy Heckerling and Julia Ducournau. “Green Room,” “The Raid” and “1917” got me so excited to make action films that just look and feel exhausting. Life is hard and exhausting. It’s full of joy, too, of course, so I want to show that duality is always at play. I’m also determined to include so many great friendships in my films, especially female friendships, in the tradition of the wonderful women ensembles I love like, “Terms of Endearment,” “Steel Magnolias,” “An Unmarried Woman” and “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.” I like to call “The Apology” an unofficial haunted house movie. That’s one of my favorite subgenres. So I kept coming back to “The Haunting,” “Crimson Peak” and “Poltergeist.” That moment in “Poltergeist” when Carol Anne’s spirit moves through her mother and her mother cries with that odd gratitude that she could feel her… That just kills me every time, that maternal instinct in a sensory way, that she could smell her daughter on her clothes, that really inspired me to stay sensory for Sally as well. I wanted her clothing to have this almost kitten/baby-like softness, like it was frustrating that she could remembering hugging her but couldn’t quite do that now, even in her memory. To do that, our Costume Designer Michelle Laine and I thought about Nastassja Kinski in “Paris, Texas,” in the fuzzy, pink sweater behind the glass of that peepshow booth, looking so soft but so unreachable.

Favorite movies from the past decade?

The Babadook, written/directed by Jennifer Kent, inspired me to focus so much of my work on the horrors of motherhood. It’s a stunning, surreal film with these two central performances that are so damn detailed and raw. Oh, I just love it so much. I’m constantly “checking” to be sure everyone I talk to has seen it.

Which themes and subject matters interest you as a filmmaker?

I like to joke that I do “domestic horror.” I’m obsessed with keeping the camera on “women’s work” — mothering, chores, emotional labor but also exploring anything through a female lens, a war movie through the women held captive rather than the male heroes, for example. Gender roles/expectations and the damage they do is ripe for exploration. I also just love action set pieces done in a grounded way, showing how exhausting or messy or bloody they might actually be if these specific characters were fighting, rather than the more typical “badass” approach, not that I don’t love a polished assassin's fight, too. But at the end of the day, my central themes are family, love, friendship, and finding your voice.