‘Sanctuary’ Review: Who’s the Boss?
For those of you who constantly lament the lack of adult movies, rest assured. “Sanctuary” is here for you. Shot almost entirely in one place in just 18 days, Zachary Wiggon’s self-assured second film (following 2014’s The Hurt Machine) is hidden in a twisty psychosexual thriller. It’s a dark romantic comedy. Or maybe vice versa.
It hardly matters. The script (by Mika Bloomberg, creator of the 2018-2020 TV series Homecoming) is very sharp, the acting is very agile, the cinematography (by Ludovika Ishidori) is very original, and the lockdown What could have been a tedious experiment in filmmaking instead involves a vivid battle of wills. On one side is Hal (Christopher Abbott), the recently deceased presumptive heir to his father’s luxury hotel chain. The other is Rebecca (Margaret Qualley), a feisty beauty who arrives at Hal’s luxury hotel suite, pulls out a stack of papers, and ostensibly begins to consider her suitability as CEO.
But something is wrong. As Rebecca’s questions become increasingly inappropriate and Hal’s responses prove to be plainly false, it becomes clear that she is his long-time queen and plays her role in a well-worn scenario. It becomes clear. But this time, Rebecca is improvising into Hal’s meticulously pre-written script, and his grievances are a dizzying one that swings from sexual to financial to ultimately emotional. It’s just the first point of friction in a series of power plays. At the same time, Ishidori’s cheeky camera mimics the two’s precarious maneuvers of swooping and 180-degree flips, testing the limits of what is essentially the play of two characters, and turning it into It often turns into something like a thrilling movie.
“Sanctuary” dances on the boundary between fantasy and reality, unfolding in a stormy night. Hal is a rights-obsessed softball, but he wants to start his new life as a “winner.” As such, he feels that sex worker services exceed requirements. And when he tries to end his relationship with Rebecca, his actions of serving him a sumptuous dinner and presenting him with an expensive watch insultingly mimic the familiar tropes of retirement ceremonies. But he is learning that this employee won’t get his pension that easily.
Both actors are good, but Qualley is a chameleon in a role that needs to slide seamlessly from playful to austere, cunning to confrontation, repentance to downright horror. Occasionally, her face freezes, as when Haru unintentionally commits violence, and we can see her devising ways to regain control of her from suddenly dangerous situations. It takes more than the ability to demean and humiliate her to succeed.
Sexy but not sexy, “Sanctuary” is wonderfully dynamic, with an emphasis on theatrical atmosphere. The ending feels too smoothly resolved, but at least it prompts Hal and Rebecca to answer the film’s central question: where does role-playing end and real life begins?
Rated R for vulgar speech and naughty behavior. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. at the theater.