Margaret Qualley and Christopher Abbott star in this tantalizingly twisty chamber piece by director Zachary Wigon and writer Micah Bloomberg. The film explores power dynamics, sexual and otherwise, in ways that sometimes surprise and delight but just as often frustrate and annoy. There is as much here that feels forced and repetitive than intriguingly genuine. As a two-hander set in a single location and playing out almost in real time, it's hard not to wonder if this might have worked better as a play. Issues around verisimilitude are far less relevant with the built in artifice of the stage proscenium. But make no mistake, Wigon and his team have set out to make something cinematic, and they succeed a great deal of the time. Cinematographer Ludovica Isidori (Test Pattern) does a superb job of making the elegant hotel suite in which the action takes place feel claustrophobic in all the right ways.
Qualley and Abbott give excellent performances, but I always felt I was watching two actors rather than two characters. The fault here lies not with with stars but with the director. Part of the issue is that the movie can't seem to avoid coming off as overly impressed with itself, and thus each narrative and tonal turn comes off less and less credibly. There's also a kind of sterility to picture that runs counter to its content. The film just isn't messy enough. Wigon's highly controlled aesthetic is just right for the first half but stops serving the material after a certain point. Sanctuary is never dull and its two lead actors keep you engaged for the full running time. I just wish it felt less like a calling card for all its participants and more like a true character study.
Zachary Wigon and Micah Bloomberg concoct a twisty two-hander about sexual power dynamics featuring top-shelf performances by Margaret Qualley and Christopher Abbott, but the resulting film feels more like a creative exercise than a true character study.