Directed by Zachary Wigon | Written by Micah Bloomberg | 96 min |▲▲▲▲△ | Amazon Prime
When Rebecca (Margaret Qualley) walks into a hotel room where Hal (Christopher Abbott) is staying, she’s wearing a blonde wig so patently awful right away you’ll wonder about her bona fides. Apparently she’s there to interview him about insurance to go with an important job, but if you’ve seen the trailer or read the plot précis you know that’s all for show. She’s a dominatrix and he’s her client.
His needs are complex, and so is their relationship. He actually is about to take on a new job, inheriting the company his late father, an industry titan, founded. Accordingly this new role means he needs to end this arrangement with Rebecca. To this, she takes offence. She leaves the hotel, but soon she’s back… with a counter-proposal.
You might think this two-hander is a salacious examination of kink, but it’s not — this is about control and codependence. There’s an undercurrent of status and class, and the suggestion of noir — Rebecca is in a lot of ways a femme fatale, though the picture, at its heart, is more The Lady Eve than The Maltese Falcon.
If the single setting feels like a play or maybe a pandemic production, the restrictions of scenario and plausibility don’t diminish the power struggle, which deftly flips from scene to scene. Maybe one or two moments stretch the bonds of credulity, but the final act twists bring it all home in a way that makes the whole production feel, in hindsight, strangely romantic. It’s also surprisingly funny for a story hinging on dramatic elements including sexual blackmail and threats of murder.
Sanctuary is held together by two excellent performances by white-hot stars — in Novitiate, My Salinger Year, and Stars At Noon, and now here, Qualley’s shown a fearlessness that reminds me of Anne Hathaway when she was hungry to make an impression. Abbott matches her beat for beat, and he’s as sterling here as he’s been in terrific Canadian movies like Sweet Virginia and Possessor. If these two could be cast together in a series of pictures, I’d watch every one.