Filmed in only eighteen days, Sanctuary debuted at 2022’s Toronto International Film Festival. Just two actors star in the film, which probably could have been better served as a racy stage play—Margaret Qualley (The Leftovers, Death Note) is manipulative dominatrix Rebecca, whilst Christopher Abbott (Girls, Possessor) plays her wealthy client, Hal. Erotic and sexually-charged, NEON’s Sanctuary ends up a curious two-hander that doesn’t have much substance beyond the surface level.
Over the course of one rather bumpy night, Hal and Rebecca role play, as per usual. This time, donned in a blonde wig, Rebecca poses as a consultant from Licher and Haines. The board is considering Hal for a “high-up crucial role” as the company’s CEO she says, and starts asking him a series of questions that get weirder by the minute. At first they are simple, such as name and social security number, but soon they delve into Hal’s age when losing his virginity. The script is careful and almost playful with their flirtation in this early scene before an understanding of what is really happening here plays out. Rebecca sticks to a pre-written script, reprimanded for going off-book. All of this is played for Hal’s sexual gratification no matter how degrading it may appear.
Everyone has their own kinks, even if that means cleaning toilets on all fours and being teased to the point of orgasm. After this initial encounter, Hal’s intent becomes quite clear. He has bought Rebecca a watch worth $30,000. With the next stage of his life imminent, Rebecca and the “work they do here” no longer has a place. This will be their goodbye. However, here in this claustrophobic hotel room, Rebecca is about to make sure they play by her rules. Hal might think he is one step ahead… but what about when blackmail is brought into the equation?
Playing out similarly to the underwhelming Malcolm & Marie (just with less arguing), Sanctuary is really nothing more than two horny people constantly turning the tables on one another. Depending on how one feels about this obvious caveat, it will either make or break the film. I will say that the cinematography is quite good, and the performances from Abbott and Qualley are stellar. There just isn’t enough here to satiate or titillate. For a sex-centered movie, we are not treated to so much as a drop of nudity. Sex and dick talk aplenty, yet not so much as a bare bottom gets glimpsed by the camera. One half tasteful, while one half constantly talks about the act of cumming; definitely a curious combination.
Sanctuary features excellent acting but is little more than a middling, drawn-out series of interactions. The sole saving grace lies with Abbott and Qualley. A final scene comes completely out of left field to attempt justifying the stranger turns in the story, and for me, it just plain did not work on any level whatsoever. Director Zachary Wigon executes some interesting directorial choices that couple with stellar acting to make Sanctuary at least worthy of one watch. As far as another, one couldn’t tempt me even with a convincing case of blackmail.
Undress your expectations when Sanctuary hits theaters in LA. and New York on Friday, May 19th, before expanding wide on June 2nd.