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  • Nate Adams

'Sanctuary' review: Christopher Abbott and Margaret Qualley dominate erotic thriller

Courtesy of Neon


Playful and twisty with the right amount of edge, Zachary Wigon’s sophomoric effort “Sanctuary” explores complex dynamics between two characters and their obsession with greed and power. In what could be described as a bizarre romantic comedy, “Santacury” explores a consensual relationship between a dominatrix and her wealthy client that begins in earnest before teetering into something deeply layered and shockingly nuanced. At the center are two powerhouse performances from Christopher Abbott and Margaret Qualley (they never leave the screen) who seem both keen and eager to stimulate thoughtful interpretations from their reading of the script and the subtext hidden beneath the surface. 

Of course, this isn’t a typical “rom com” situation when we’re first introduced to Hal (Abbott) and his paid-for-hire dominatrix Rebecca (Qualley). The movie opens with what looks like a routine business meeting among two corporate wigs until it becomes evident Rebecca is a little too interested in his past sex life. Before we know it, Hal is on his hands and knees scrubbing the bathroom floor while she emasculates him (sticking to the predetermined script ahead of time). It’s an involving sequence of events that adequately displays their unique companionship, which helps make the proceedings more fascinating when Hal, who is set to take over a multi-billion dollar hotel enterprise for his Trump-like father figure, tells Rebecca their late night rendezvous must end. 

But Rebecca is smarter and wiser than she leads on and feels he’s only CEO material because of these wild sessions. In an attempt to keep Hal on her tight leash, she goes full manic mode, expending her resources to make sure this transactional relationship doesn’t end. Nothing is off limits and Qualley makes every ounce of her desperate performance believable alongside Abbott’s puppy dog-esq demeanor. The two have a remarkable chemistry and keep the movie lively and unpredictable, which is never easy during an intimate two-hander that takes place in one central location over the course of one 12 hour evening. 

“Sanctuary” doesn’t push the boundaries of erotica filmmaking, in fact it’s really not graphic in the physical sense (save for one scene where the foley/sound mixer allows viewers to use their imaginations). The real kink lies in the script as it forces these characters to confront all manners of themselves with a potent intimacy that says all it needs too without becoming distracting. Screenwriter Micah Bloomberg gets plenty of credit for helping mold an eccentric love story that boldly unravels the frail cat-and-mouse aesthetic between Rebecca and Hal before flipping the script entirely. It shows you should never judge a book by its cover or a dominatrix by her asking price. 

Grade: B+ 

SANCTUARY opens in Michigan theaters Friday June 2nd. 


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