Sanctuary: Margaret Qualley Delivers Award-Worthy Performance

Margaret Qualley in Sanctuary. Courtesy of NEON.

Margaret Qualley delivers an award-worthy performance in the Toronto-premiering Sanctuary, which is now making its way into theaters.

This film is about a dominatrix and a client. Don’t let it stop you from watching the film. I’ll get into it later but it really feels like you’re in the room with them. It really ups the claustrophobic feeling when it comes to the tension in the room. Trust me when I say that you need to watch Sanctuary on the biggest screen possible to get the most out of it. The fact that it is only an hour and a half (and change with credits) is all the more reason to support indie films such as this one. In a world where films are playing for well over two hours, this film is able to keep one’s attention. It’s a credit to both the writing and pace in that it never feels like it’s dragging at all.

The dark comedy follows a dominatrix, Rebecca (Margaret Qualley), and client Hal (Christopher Abbott) in a fast-paced film as they battle for control. This is a film where you never quite know who is really in power because the stakes keep changing. It recently held its Chicago premiere during the 2023 Chicago Critics Film Festival and let me tell you, it’s the sort of film in which one cannot peel their eyes away.

It’s one of those premises that is interesting. What appears to be a regular review as Hal inherits his late father’s position as CEO of the hotel chain soon becomes a game in which Rebecca has all the power. But wait! It turns out that Hal wants to end his secret meetings with Rebecca but she quickly decides to blackmail him. Who is really in charge here? One can feel the tension in the room even as eyes are going back and forth as if a tennis match is playing out on screen.

There’s so much complexity playing out with these characters. You’d think Rebecca wouldn’t be holding all this power over Hal given how much money he has. But at the same time, she’s in this position in which she can play the games and take the power back. I love how Margaret Qualley approaches the role–if this isn’t a career-best performance to date, it comes pretty darn close. To say that the apple does not fall far from the tree is not an understatement. In any event, the shot the same in chronological order so the actors are not going back and forth with how they’re playing their characters. What amazes me the most is that they only shot the film in 18 days! You wouldn’t know this from watching.

This is one of those films in which I would describe it as: tell me you made a pandemic movie without telling me you made a pandemic movie. They basically limit the sets to just the elevator bay and Hal’s hotel suite. It’s genius, really, to keep the film to limited sets in a film of this nature. There’s also a theatrical sensibility to Micah Bloomberg’s screenplay given that we’re watching the duo go back and forth. As I’m watching the film on screen, I could also see it play out as a play on the stage. Would the claustrophobic tension still exist on stage? That’s the part I cannot exactly answer without watching on stage. Maybe it’s because of the big screen and the film’s high saturation but it ups the tension without a doubt.

Margaret Qualley and Christopher Abbott never lose our attention as the duo are acting their hearts out in Sanctuary.

DIRECTOR: Zachary Wigon
SCREENWRITER: Micah Bloomberg
CAST: Margaret Qualley, Christopher Abbott

Neon will release Sanctuary in theaters on May 19, 2023. Grade: 4.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.