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Sanctuary ★★★★★



Directed: Zachary Wigon

Cast: Margaret Qualley, Christopher Abbott

Released: 19th May 2023 (USA)

Top, Bottom or Vers. Dominant or submissive. Whether you are candid or precious about the detail in public or behind closed doors, we are no strangers to these preferences and roles regarding sex. For all the pleasure-seeking we crave, we don’t bank on the inner confidence unearthed in the act that perhaps is elusive to you outside those four walls in the real world. The clarity in how we articulate what we genuinely want to someone. But what is the cost of such discretion when trying to keep up appearances?

That is the million-dollar question for Christopher Abbott’s hotel heir and Margaret Qualley’s Denver dominatrix, in a tantalising chamber piece from Zachary Wigon that truly reignites the erotic thriller ‘flame’. He is reeling from the death of his father. The sudden thrust of responsibility onto Hal’s (Abbott) shoulders leaves him scatterbrained as he looks to confront the prospect of being CEO head-on. At least he is assured in tailoring his needs within the scripts he creates for his steamy sessions with Rebecca (Qualley), agonising over every aspect in a table read. Rebecca profiles him like they are filling out an extensive job application, rather apt for the imminent promotion.

About to assume the position of top dog, Hal is a wicked contradiction in revelling in his humiliation kink. On all fours scrubbing the grubby bathroom floor, complimenting the dirty world of capitalism he’s being plunged into, with Rebecca in boss mode, seductively delivering orders. Somehow leaving room to wine and dine like any tight-knit relationship, only for Hal to deliver news that is difficult to digest. He wants to ‘check out’, setting up a red-hot series of mind games between the pair.

By using its single setting exceptionally, Wigon fully leans into the assigned power stances of the protagonists through its compositions. The high angle bearing down on an emotionally stunted Hal accentuates his inadequacies, with the camerawork proving more dynamic as he frantically paces around, mirroring his frenzied state of mind. The low-angle shots create an imposing spread-legged figure in Rebecca as she looks to dictate the terms, consistently slightly elevated in the frames shared with Hal reasserting her long-time superiority.

In this searing battle of wits, the dialogue is just delectable in dialling up the sheer irrationality of both sides. Perhaps no better illustrated than through a brilliantly barmy dance sequence as Qualley does her best Kate Bush Wuthering Heights impression, teasing a flustered Hal about how his reputation is under threat by her ‘actions’. She is subverting classic rom-com tropes such as the fancy meal and the showering of gifts to express appreciation with relish.

Yet, for all the compromising situations, Sanctuary has an unlikely air of romance as it digs deep into Hal and Rebecca’s psyches. The implication that this is their only safe space in this world, alongside their compatibility when solely sticking to their assigned roles, plays out in an alluring fashion.

Margaret Qualley is an absolute firecracker in the role of Rebecca. Her combative and wildly unpredictable nature, in challenging this idea women must bend to the serial-winning will of men outside the bedroom whilst wanting their fair share, really keeps you on your toes. The chemistry with Christopher Abbott is off the charts, whose showing as Hal is equally feisty. This a clear indicator that for all the financial muscle they may have, heterosexual men are frightfully insecure in navigating today’s climate. His alterations between sheer disdain and singing Rebecca’s praises reinforce how intricate their relationship is.

In a genre with a wretched habit of churning out regularly tame mediocrity. Sanctuary is a downright thrilling entry, loaded with sex appeal, compelling social commentary and a delicious sense of danger.

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