Set over the course of one night in a single hotel room, “Sanctuary” tells the story of a dominatrix (Margaret Qualley) and Hal (Christopher Abbott), her wealthy client. About to inherit his late father’s position and fortune, Hal tries to end their relationship, but when his attempt to cut ties backfires, disaster ensues.
Sanctuary is the type of stagy two characters in a room film that seems smart in the beginning but eventually out twists itself in the end.
Sanctuary wants to be a black romantic comedy wrapped up in a psychosexual thriller bow, essentially a rom-dram—a new genre mashup for films that can’t decide whether they want to be a dark romantic drama or black romantic comedy, so they try being a mostly failed version of both. The kind of screwed up movies that get good reviews for being original, and wickedly, witty fun.
It has one of the longest, most painful meet cutes of any recent rom-dram, one that has been apparently playing out the same scripted variations for years. The sexual slave/sub vs dominatrix/master scenarios are constantly being flipped. The audience being lied to for so long, doubts the real truth when it comes.
The two leads, Rebecca (Margaret Qualley) and Hal (Christopher Abbott), keep an interesting battle of wills and deceptions going for Sanctuary’s first third. By the third twist, the actors are starting to treat this as a drama class exercise in role reversal with heavy tinges of sexual warfare. It becomes the breakup that will never come and the makeup sex the audience doesn’t want to see. It’s cringe in all the wrong ways.
The corporate gamesmanship between the two robs Sanctuary of any kinky sexuality or even romance. The power plays from fetish games to financial blackmail to emotional manipulation and true love(?) are never really earned or believed. The audience given the fantasy never wants the reality, not if it feels like just another cheat. Rebecca should have taken the expensive watch for sexual services rendered, the company Hal never really wanted to run in the first place, and gone down the elevator alone, leaving Hal the lost, weak insecure little boy he always was and wanted to be. Let Rebecca wear the big boys clothes.
Sanctuary gets a 3.0 out of 5 or a B. It’s streaming on Hulu.
- David Lancaster
- Stephanie Wilcox
- Ilya Stewart
- Pavel Burian
- Kate Brokaw
- Lance Edmands
- Rumble Films
- Mosaic Films
- Hype Studios
- September 11, 2022(TIFF)
- May 19, 2023(United States)