HomeMoviesSanctuary Review: An Absolutely Twisted, Must-Watch Film

Sanctuary Review: An Absolutely Twisted, Must-Watch Film

Margaret Qualley & Christopher Abbott in Neon's Sanctuary
Photo Credit: NEON

One of the most highly talked about films within the indie crowd at the start of summer was Sanctuary – the sophomore feature of director Zachary Wigon. There was so much chatter about Sanctuary’s intense thrills and compelling lead performances that the film gained this persona of being too good to pass up. Sanctuary not only lives up to the hype built up around it but delivers an unexpectedly captivating experience that makes it a bona fide hidden gem.

Sanctuary, because of how pivotal secrecy and surprise are to the film’s experience, is a film that’s best left as unspoiled as possible. It’s that type of film that never wants audiences to get too deep into its head or have a full grasp of what’s happening in front of them. Its mission is to deliver shocks and surprises at nearly every turn and pull the rug out from the audience as often as possible. That ideology is made clear right from the first scene between the film’s main characters Hal (Christopher Abbott) and Rebecca (Margaret Qualley).

Although their relationship initially seems like a simple business engagement, the true nature of their meeting arises and is quite shocking. Their relationship is shown to be built on dominance and power in a way that most people wouldn’t understand and has an underlying layer of sexual tension. Yet, when something happens that puts their relationship in danger of ending, Hal and Rebecca find themselves in a twisted power struggle that could have traumatizing consequences.

Now, Sanctuary is a film that takes a bit to get going and could be tough for audiences to connect with right away. Frankly, the first five to ten minutes are meant to purposefully lull viewers into a situation that doesn’t leave an obvious impression. Then once the big shift occurs and the reality of what these two are here for becomes clear — you instantly feel sucked into its premise and the unique relationship these two have. Shortly afterwards though, viewers are brought back into an unclear direction until these two have a conflict that sets everything going forward into motion. In short, the first act definitely requires a little patience and an open mind from viewers just to give it the time to get its hooks into you. But the wait will absolutely be worth it because Sanctuary is a mind-blowing nerve-shredder that’ll keep audiences invested into its twisty power struggle.

There’s such a compelling atmosphere surrounding Hal and Rebecca as they attempt to maintain their power over one another. The way their mindsets and motivations are slowly fleshed out adds to the captivating nature of this unfolding conflict. Every reaction and emotion says something new about their position in this game they’re playing, and new layers are constantly added that make their arcs and feelings so much deeper. The disturbing lengths these two are willing to go – especially Rebecca – to ultimately come out on top will leave viewers completely shook and jaw-dropped. The best part is that the game these two are entrenched in is much more mental than physical.

Their game is all about gaslighting. These two try to get into each other’s head in order to gain the upper hand. The film’s dialogue-heavy approach lets these two characters, and their motives, really sink and twist into your mind. There’s literally a point where Hal has had his mind contorted so drastically that he’s on the verge of a mental break and it’s hard not to relate to that feeling when watching Sanctuary. The ways that reality is constantly bended are just stunning, and the escalation of Hal and Rebecca’s conflicts is fantastic. Just when you think you know where things are heading or that their conflict has reached an ending point, the film just pulls you back into chaos. There are some incredibly dark turns with these characters that leave a palpable impact on viewers and it’s remarkably enticing to see them both just thrive and fall apart in this mess – especially Hal.

A big reason that this ongoing situation is so captivating and compelling is not only Wigon’s direction and the great script crafted by Micah Bloomberg, but also the excellent performances from Abbott and Qualley. These two are considered by some as underrated talents who are the rise for a reason — they’re experts at immersing themselves into their roles and the atmosphere of the film. Sanctuary further proves that as these two deliver top-tier performances that deserve wider recognition. Qualley brings a sense of dominance that embodies Rebecca’s profession wonderfully while still showing a vulnerability that makes her character so complex and intriguing. As for Abbott, he brings his own type of complexity to Hal that highlights personal weaknesses he’s trying to keep at bay and a resilience to Rebecca so that he doesn’t completely falter. Within the great vision that Wigon and Bloomberg have set up for the film’s story, characters, and single room setting, viewers will be thrilled to be in the swirling chaos of this power struggle and the stir-crazy atmosphere.

Now things can get a little overwhelming at times. At times it’s tough to find a moment to catch your breath as you find yourself questioning reality like Hal is. However, the film builds towards a surprisingly emotional conclusion that sees these two really come to grips with both themselves and how they actually feel about the nature of their relationship. Things come together very quickly – maybe a little too quick – but it is incredibly satisfying to see these two dissected in a meaningful manner in the film’s finale. These realizations help define what’s real about them, and the more tender resolutions between Hal and Rebecca not only feel fitting because of how they actually impact each other, but also because it makes their final moments together carry these romantic vibes you can’t help but be into – even after all the toxicity you just witnessed.

Sanctuary is a surefire must-watch of 2023 simply for its roughly 90-minute thrill ride that features a great combination of stunning directing, writing, and performances that culminate in an evolving blend of messy chaos and shifting powers that’s impossible to look away from.

Sanctuary is now available on demand.

Tom Moore
Tom Moorehttps://mooreviews.com/
Tom is always ready to see and review everything horrifying and hilarious that hits theaters, television, and video games...sometimes. You can check out his other reviews and articles on his blog, Mooreviews.

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