May 19th, 2023




In Zachary Wigon’s film Sanctuary, we are locked in a penthouse suite with two people. It’s a tight two-hander, with a pair of characters that can’t help themselves from pushing each other’s buttons, some sexual, some with good intentions, and some simply to anger one another. This is not just about a relationship or a concept. Instead, it’s about the dynamics of men and women, the kinds of sexual desires people might have, or things they do behind closed doors. The final result from Sanctuary is two of the best acting performances of 2023, with a narrative that will spark great conversation, in a sharp portrayal of the many pleasures– or pains–that can happen in a person’s world.

The two characters are Hal (Christopher Abbott) and Rebecca (Margaret Qualley). There is a knock at the door. She enters and sits down. She pulls out a packet of papers, and a pen, and begins to ask Hal a series of questions. Do you drink? Are you sexually active? Do you have an STD? The questions increasingly become offensive, and specific, and Hal puts a stop to it because Rebecca is not sticking to the script. It’s in this moment where the act is up and we realize that this is a dominatrix and her client. The demoralizing comments and the embarrassment is a part of it. These two are in their safe zone and it’s been an agreement for some time, almost to the point where they have a financial relationship. He gets off and she provides him with the service. That is until something changes, where the lines between their pleasures and pain become blurred. What was once their sanctuary has quickly become a cage match.

Watching Sanctuary, increasingly becomes a narrative vice, turning tighter and asking us if we want more. It’s just how far these two will go and take it out on each other that becomes increasingly engaging. Hal is the recent benefactor of his late father’s wealth and as Rebecca finds this out, she understands that if they are going to stop their arraignment, she could take advantage of her situation. Ruin the man. Tell the world that the wealthy billionaire son is a sexual deviant. It’s when Rebecca turns the tables, revealing a side that Hal never saw, and keeping the viewer guessing if it’s part of the pleasure. It is that constant shift of power dynamics that writer Micah Bloomberg wants us to see, like a boxing match in a ring, they dance around the room jockeying for position for one to land the winning punch.

Making a movie like Sanctuary work calls for two great actors. Abbott is as good as it gets. A modern-day Warren Beatty, with good looks, and a track record that continues to grow. From Possessor, The Forgiven, or Black Bear, the actor dives head first in and often emerges by making a movie better. And even as Abbott is strong, if there must be one person who receives attention here, that award goes to Qualley. Her portrayal of Rebecca is devilish, confident, and staying ahead of Hal in what she seeks. Her sharp tongue, her eyes of desire, and take charge approach leaves us understanding why Hal needed her so much.

Revealing where the night leads further would only destroy the fabric of this story. What can be said is that Sanctuary is wildly original. Dialogue is heavy but rarely feels too talky. The screenplay by Bloomberg, along with the tight, fish-eyed cinematography from Ludovica Isidori has it move incredibly fast. It’s also a healthy look at sexual relationships. It’s an honest portrayal of how a man would want to be demoralized just to be turned on or how the dance of seduction can just be an act. Either way, this Sanctuary is not a safe space, but it is a delightfully wicked good time.



Written by: Leo Brady

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