https://news.yahoo.com/sanctuary-review-margaret-qualley-christopher-215849613.html

TIFF

Margaret Qualley delivers a powerhouse performance of eroticized determination and deviance in Sanctuary, a scintillating chamber piece (premiering at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival) about a corporate executive and his favorite dominatrix. Sporting a blonde wig, a business suit with a ruffled white shirt, and a devilishly no-nonsense expression on her face, Qualley cuts an immediately striking figure in Zachary Wigon’s unpredictable psychosexual thriller. Better yet, over the course of this night-long saga, she continually reveals exciting new depths of cunning, manipulation and, most tantalizing of all, potential sincerity. There’s no way to get a total read on what Qualley’s protagonist is up to, which turns out to be the primary thrill of this snapshot of personal, professional, and class warfare.

Proving herself an adept chameleon, Qualley is Rebecca, who arrives at the hotel room of Hal (Christopher Abbott) with a briefcase in tow. Her supposed purpose is to conduct an in-depth screening interview on behalf of the board of directors of Hal’s family hotel company, which he’s slated to take over now that its founder and CEO, his imperious father, has passed away. Rebecca is all business, going through her questions with the same methodical precision and rigidity that defines her comportment and movements through this confined space. Wigon’s camera (courtesy of cinematographer Ludovica Isidori) is similarly composed and focused: gliding, panning, and rotating—the last of which is a recurring flourish that also speaks to the tale’s topsy-turvy nature—to suggest this duo’s underlying power dynamics.

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[Minor spoilers follow]

As we swiftly discover, those aren’t what they initially seem. For one, Hal states that he’s 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, which means we’re either going blind or he’s lying (hint: it’s the latter). Moreover, Rebecca’s queries quickly detour into decidedly intimate territory, exposing this as some type of role-playing invention. In actuality, it’s a carefully choreographed two-person play that’s been scripted by Hal and given to Rebecca to learn and perform for his benefit, and it’s meant to be followed to the letter. Rebecca’s less-than-accurate line readings, therefore, are a serious problem for Hal, who objects to her improvisatory deviations from the text. In his ensuing complaints, key details about their arrangement come to light, such as Rebecca’s requirement that there be no touching during the course of this encounter—a rule predicated on the idea that, with regard to her clients, “what they need from me is not physical, it’s mental.”

Micah Bloomberg’s script routinely dispenses vital information without resorting to exposition; on the contrary, it demands acute attention to its barbed, seesawing action. Almost as soon as things have apparently fallen apart between Rebecca and Hal, they’ve segued into a new phase, with Rebecca calling Hal “fucking retarded” for rolling his eyes at her, and then ordering him to clean the bathroom. He complies, following her instructions to remove his clothes, use toilet paper instead of the fancy hotel hand towels, and get down on his hands and knees to scrub the filthy area behind the toilet. While he does this, she sits, legs spread and a look of pleasurable perversion on her face, in a chair in the doorway, a figurative queen lording over her willingly demeaned minion as he executes this most humbling of tasks.

Where this is all headed appears somewhat clear at this juncture, so it’s a credit to Sanctuary’s cleverness that it manages to upend expectations. Once the overtly sexual part of their meeting has concluded, Hal thanks Rebecca for her services—which he’s been using for some time, in what they like to refer to as “sessions”—and gives her a parting gift in the form of a $32,000 watch. Rebecca isn’t having it, though, deriding this farewell gesture as the sort of thing a cop gets at a retirement party, and refusing to simply put a permanent halt to their ongoing agreement. Conflict emerges, laced with anger and inflamed by blackmail threats. All the while, the film’s aesthetics echo and enhance the characters’ positions vis-à-vis each other, with Wigon’s expert visuals—full of corresponding close-ups, alternately symmetrical and askew compositions, and sharp use of colorful light and shadow—transforming the material into a vigorous and vicious tango.

Split into distinct acts that are demarcated by interludes of swirling rainbow hues and lens flares set to swelling orchestral music, and situated solely in Hal’s hotel room and the hallway and elevator just outside it, Sanctuary has the feel of a theatrical production (likely a byproduct of COVID-19-related limitations). There’s a feverish hothouse quality to the story, and it eventually takes on a larger political dimension. Hal is an insecure, meek and not-very-bright prince on the precipice of assuming a throne for which he’s not ready, and he finds himself at the mercy of his employee, who’s not content with being unceremoniously cast aside. The capitalistic class tensions at the heart of this skirmish are difficult to miss, although Wigon never preaches, instead warping this haves-versus-have-nots relationship—and our concept of precisely what’s real and what’s fiction—with demented playfulness.

Veering between hostility and steaminess, drama and comedy, Sanctuary is an elastic portrait of two people figuring out who they are, and what they want, in bizarrely unexpected fashion. And if the resolution they ultimately strike doesn’t seem wholly believable, it’s overshadowed by its leads’ nimble performances. At once eagerly submissive and desperate to assert himself (and thus prove his deceased father wrong), Hal is a man-child caught between desire and expectation, and Abbott evokes his frustration and fury with poised agility. Abbott casts Hal’s macho menace as a façade, albeit one driven by real, dangerous feelings of worthlessness and fear. It’s another in a long line of strong turns from the Girls alum, and more than equaled by Qualley as a seductive temptress who’s also a canny and ruthless entrepreneur out to get what she covets—and deserves. As with Hal, the lines between Rebecca’s authentic and affected selves are never easy to parse, but one thing is abundantly clear: Qualley, like her character, has the ferocious goods to make it to the top.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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