Directed by Zachary Wigon.
Starring Christopher Abbott and Margaret Qualley.
In the wake of inheriting his father’s hotel chain, Hal attempts to end his long and secret relationship with Rebecca. A battle of wills ensues over the course of one incredibly fraught night, with both Rebecca and Hal struggling to keep the upper hand as the power dynamics swing wildly back and forth.
Zachary Wigon’s sophomore narrative feature, Sanctuary, is a full-throttle sadistically dark BDSM dark romantic dramedy that smartly focuses on the psychological aspects of those dynamics, but not without some depraved physical role-playing thrown in for power balancing good measure. Forget discussions of the best of the festival, as this might be my favorite movie of the year so far, something I tend to find when attending the Chicago Critics Film Festival.
There are so many twisted turns here (courtesy from a script by Micha Bloomberg), so all that will be mentioned is that Sanctuary is a two-hander (in more ways than one) set inside a lavish hotel room throughout one rollercoaster night between dominatrix Rebecca (Margaret Qualley, gleefully reveling in playing an unhinged lunatic taking sessions miles past the line of safety and comfort) and her submissive client Hal (an intense Christopher Abbott), processing the death of his wealthy father and employing these services as a means to prepare his weak, incompetent ass for taking over the hotel empire.
Hal has decided to end the sessions, which sets off sinister intent within Rebecca to play insidious mental dom/sub games to keep him in her life, not just limited to blackmail. That probably sounds regressive on paper, but Sanctuary is anything but, infusing these various role-playing sessions with subtle observations about gender dynamics and real-life roles.
Working with cinematographer Ludovica Isidori, Zachary Wigon ensures Sanctuary has stylistic camera movements, keeping it from feeling overly stagey and theatrical. When Rebecca reveals a hidden camera in the room recording their sessions, the camera slides and turns upside down across every nook and cranny of the room as if we are frantically searching alongside Hal. Meanwhile, Rebecca dances like a deranged lunatic.
Aside from maybe one minute in the beginning and conclusion each, Sanctuary is nonstop exhilarating kinky chaos that dares to keep one-upping itself in abhorrent behavior that one can’t help cheering on (if you have seen John Wick but want some more knife play, you are in the right place…), eager to see how sick and far these characters are willing to go in what becomes a real-life power struggle. Margaret Qualley and Christopher are cinematic dynamite for 90 minutes, completely in command of these characters and who they are under the surface.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com