REVIEW: ‘Sanctuary’ (2022) is a Theatrical Masterclass in Incredible Performance

In Zachary Wigon’s Sanctuary, which follows a complicated relationship between a hotel heir and his dominatrix, Christopher Abbott and Margaret Qualley bring fire to their performances. The movie is shot in one location and Wigon creates an intense conversation with these characters on how to end their business relationship, which eventually spirals out of control. Micah Bloomberg’s screenplay is an excellent example of setting sharp dialogue in one confined space and building tension inside the lair. It explores a theatrical and parasitic relationship between a dominatrix and her client, showing the emotional, subtle power shifts at play. 

Rebecca (Qualley) is on hire for legal counsel. She enters a hotel suite wearing a blonde wig and business suit, carrying a briefcase with questions for Hal Porterfield (Abbott), the heir to a hotel fortune. A formal interview ensues (to test his capability to take over as the head of the company). Her questions to Hal become personal and then quickly inappropriate, curtailing information about his sexual history. Hal is annoyed and reminds Rebecca to follow the script that he had written for them. Soon, Rebecca is revealed to be a dominatrix hired by him to participate in a no-sexual contact relationship. Hal is preparing to take over the company (following the death of his father) and leave behind these weird, scandalous fantasies; preparing for his last appointment with Rebecca. 

Rebecca looks at Hall (off-screen).
Margaret Qualley as Rebecca. Image courtesy of NEON.

From this point onwards, Rebecca and Hal play a game of lies, twists, and control — it’s a cinematic battle of stripping each other of their sanity and will. There are many layers to Rebecca’s decisiveness; she slowly attempts to gain control of Hal’s emotions and manipulates him by playing a new game. She threatens and humiliates Hal to gain power over him — learning enough about his character to use it to her own advantage and exert control Every detail Rebecca reveals to Hal puts him off balance, sending him into a frenzy that builds the tension and turns their relationship further into chaos. It’s a perfect game of cat and mouse that, ultimately, sees Rebecca’s plan for dominance peel off layer after layer. 

Wigon and Bloomberg demonstrate the fierce manoeuvring of their relationship choreographed inside the confined hotel suite. Cinematographer Ludovica Isidori follows the carefully structured screenplay to pan over from the living room to the bathroom with precision with great direction. Leading stars Qualley and Abbott are magnetic — as they work together to perform their scenes with steadiness and descent further into chaos. Qualley gives a precise and calculated performance opposite Abbott’s puppy-like persona who turns into a wolf in this layered performance. It’s a terrifying performance where two characters are clearly destroying each other’s trust and will, as well as the hotel suite, to present their emotional and psychical conflicts. 

Sanctuary is a manifestation of the pair’s anxieties and fears. It punches through Hal’s insecurities and the walls surrounding the characters to present their frustrations at Rebecca’s neverending games of manipulation and control. It’s a thrilling cinematic experience to watch Abbott and Qualley completely step out of their comfort zone and destroy their characters’ relationships for hidden motivations. It dances between the lines of reality and fantasy, which is why Sanctuary keeps the viewer guessing Rebecca’s next move and her chameleonic expressions to fully understand her role in this game.