Websters dictionary defines the word Sanctuary as this: a place of refuge and protection. In regard to the film written by Micah Bloomberg and directed by Zachary Wilgon, the title Sanctuary and its meaning treads into spoiler territory but leaving it to the vibe the film gives off, one can easily guess the context of the use of the word. Set in a singular location of a 70’s inspired décor hotel room suite, refuge and protection are absent, the characters are easily exposed to harm but as Wilgon’s film progresses, the word finds a deeper meaning by the end of the 96 minute runtime.
Hal Porterfield (Christopher Abbot) receives a visit to his hotel suite by Rebecca Marin (Margaret Qualley) there to conduct an interview slash background check for Hal’s new role as CEO of a company. The questions start innocent enough (though right away anyone can tell that these questions are off limits as far as hiring interviews go) and quickly transition into uncomfortable truths that have to be given. The next increasingly more disturbing than the last. And soon enough, Rebecca stops the questionnaire to reveal the script that Hal has written out line by line for this meeting.
It’s learned by this script that Rebecca is a dominatrix and Hal is her client who has been seeing her for quite a while. Part of the script has some truth to it – Hal is a CEO of Porterfield Hotel’s, a chain he inherited from his father in which Hal shares several doubts whether he can live up to his father’s expectations. After their session is finished and Rebecca is paid a significant sum of money, Hal terminates the ongoing relationship. And once Rebecca walks out of the vintage styled hotel suite, Sanctuary becomes a tour de force rollercoaster ride led by its energic and engrossing performances.
Together Margaret Qualley and Cristopher Abbot fill the room with an energy that brings you along for the ride. Once it starts, Wilgon rarely slows down for a break between the dialogue driven action. Qualley is coy and Abbot reserved. The two feed off one another as the night becomes increasingly more tense and the stakes of the characters encounters become something of a nightmare for either person. Bloomberg’s script does just enough to keep you guessing – is there really a camera in the room, has Rebecca really been taping sessions in secret? The truth is always masked by deception but it’s how Hal and Rebecca react to the circumstances that keeps the atmosphere suffocating, despite how spacious the suite is.
For 96 minutes, the walls feel like their closing in, every interaction heightens the claustrophobic nature some get when in confined spaces. Think the Ryan Reynolds solo film Buried but with a damaging social status in jeopardy, blackmail and uncomfortable compromises.
Adding fuel to the fire that rages within the walls is a pulse pounding score by Ariel Marx, complimenting Bloomberg’s screenplay and giving it a wordless voice. Both serenading during the quieter scenes and frantic during the many arguments the two share during the struggle for power. Cinematographer Ludovica Isidori puts the camera up close between the two squeezing the more tension out of the situation. During Hal’s urgency for locating the camera that may or may not exist, the camera pans, flips upside down perfectly with Hal as he shifts his focus, tearing the room apart. Glass gets shattered, lights go out, shelves become dismantled as Rebecca dominates Hal in every aspect.
As the night begins to unravel, Bloomberg’s script begins to take control. It’s Hal’s game – he writes the script, sets the scenario and give Rebecca the keys to the car. After the supposed first transaction finishes, their personalities continue on. Bloomberg puts the pressure on the viewer to keep guessing what will happen next. The entire night could have been planned out. When Isidori closes in on the script after Hal’s script finishes, I couldn’t help but notice there were more pages left to go. I kept questioning whether all of the events that take place were supposed to happen however Bloomberg leaves it open to interpretation as there are several jaw-dropping moments that come to light in regard to Hal’s fantasies.
While Sanctuary boasts sex positivity and promotes the openness of celebrating kink’s, the deeper themes of control, disappointment, pride and confidence balance the film on an emotional level. From the consistent tone, a fascinating score and two energetic and engaging performances, Sanctuary is sensual, disturbing, sweet and frightening, keeping you on the edge of your seat, unable to predict what curveball Micah Bloomberg and Zachary Wilgon will throw at you next. By the end of the film, the word ‘sanctuary’ envelops several meanings, saving its most poignant one for last.
Screenplay By: Micah Bloomberg
Directed By: Zachary Wilgon
Music By: Ariel Marx
Cinematography: Ludovica Isidori
Starring: Margaret Qualley & Christopher Abbot
Edited By: Kate Brokaw & Lance Edmands
Release Date: May 19, 2023
Running Time: 1 Hour 36 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%