A alonde woman whispers something to a concerned-looking man.

Film Review: Sanctuary

Film Reviews

Director: Zachary Wigon

Rumble Films and Hype Studios
In Theaters: 06.02

The summer movie season means big budgets, spectacular effects and not a lot that we haven’t seen before. If you’re looking to escape the familiar trappings of recycled blockbusters, Zachary Wigon‘s darkly comic psychological thriller Sanctuary is a great place to hide out.

Set over the course of one night in a single hotel room, Sanctuary follows high-priced dominatrix Rebecca (Margaret Qualley, The Leftovers, Maid), and her wealthy client Hal (Christopher Abbott, Catch-22, On the Count of Three) as they meet for one of their regular sessions in his hotel room. It’s not a regular session, however: This is one of Hal’s family’s hotels, and Hal is inheriting his late father’s position, influence, fortune and all of the responsibilities that go with it all. He has decided that it’s time to end this potentially scandalous relationship. When his attempt to cut Rebecca loose doesn’t go as planned, a high stakes battle of wills is on.

Sanctuary is a deliciously entertaining film that blends the suspense of Alfred Hitchcock and the erotic tension of Adrian Lyne with witty dialogue reminiscent of Aaron Sorkin; it even throws in an unexpected dash of Nora Ephron’s sentimentality. It’s a mix that shouldn’t work and that’s a big part of what makes it such a captivating  experience. Wickedly funny, subversively sexy and at times genuinely unnerving, Sanctuary keeps you on the edge of your seat, even if you feel a little guilty about how easily you’re swept up by the manipulations of this bizarrely codependent couple. Their intriguing and unpredictable relationship is rooted in fantasy and kinky roleplay, and we’re left constantly guessing as to what is heartfelt truth and what is merely a calculated bluff. 

Abbott was already one of my favorite up-and-coming stars, and he delivers a pitch perfect performance even when he’s at his most whiny and weaselly. Qualley has been on my radar ever since her scene-stealing role as a Manson acolyte named Pussycat in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, and she’s even better here, lighting up the screen with her characterization of a strong-willed woman who is smart, sensual and more than a little bit scary. 

The structure of Micah Bloomberg‘s script feels much like a stage play, though Wigon’s inventive shot selection and taut pacing give it a cinematic quality worthy of the big screen. Sanctuary‘s blend of suspense, satire and sensuality is not for all tastes, though it’s quite tastefully done given the taboo subject matter. The focus is on power dynamics, desire and the psychological aspects of the relationship. If you’re worried about or hoping for nudity and graphic sex on screen, you won’t find it here.

Sanctuary defies expectations and delivers a refreshingly unique moviegoing experience that’s not as easy to categorize as you might think. Those willing to enter the theater with an open mind and adventurous spirit are likely to have a good time. –Patrick Gibbs

Read more reviews of recent thriller films:
Film Review: How to Blow Up a Pipeline
Film Review: Clock