Directed by: Zachary Wigon
Written by: Micah Bloomberg
Starring: Margaret Qualley, Christopher Abbott
BDSM is a touchy (ahem) subject that is not always done justice on film, for every Secretary there are half a dozen 365 days or an entire Fifty Shades trilogy. Inherently it’s about more than just sex and can take a lot of different formats, with Sanctuary setting itself apart from other films about the topic in successful ways.
Dominatrix Rebecca (Margaret Qualley) has been with businessman Hal (Christopher Abbott) for a while, typically engaging in sexually themed scenarios with him, but upon Hal’s rise in a hotel company to take his father’s former place as the head, he tries to break off the relationship. Rebecca changes her tune and starts a power play to get back at and break him.
Don’t expect Sanctuary to be a straight up erotic thriller, whilst that’s part of the narrative the film is much more concerned with the dramatic power play between these two characters and what it reveals about them personally. Not only does this lead to a lot of swerves and surprises, but also an accurate representation of what BDSM is albeit with the personal stakes raised. Throughout the story, there is the sense that Rebecca is not just fighting for her control, but trying to put Hal in a scenario where he will eventually experience personal change. It's a positive representation of BDSM even if it is not conveyed in the most positive way.
The limited location and heavy amount of dialogue could give the proceedings a stagey feel, but director Zachary Wigon brings a lot of flair through both the variety of camerawork and the changing tones of the various sequences. He uses one too many closeups but aside from that there’s a grasp on comedy, drama, camp and even tension. The catchy and quirky musical score is also a highlight too.
The acting from Abbott and Qualley carries the film as well, especially the latter. Qualley gives a performance that is both intimidating and hilarious, which is apparent in both her expressiveness and what she brings to the role physically. Her best moments are a dance scene and the climax involving role play. Abbott is also convincing as both a submissive type and someone who is trying to be more dominant.
The only real flaw with Sanctuary is that it mildly outstays it’s welcome. It’s only 95 minutes but probably could have been 80 minutes. Towards the end it feels like the film loses steam and whilst the final 10 minutes are needed, pacing wise it felt like it was going on too long. The first 15 minutes probably could have made a good short film all on its own, which does mildly throw off the rest of the film but not enough to where the rest of it is boring.
Overall, despite a couple of pacing issues, Sanctuary is a unique entry into the Erotic film genre and a good directorial/acting showcase for Wigon and Qualley. You have to know what to expect, but most likely you will be entertained.