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Film Review: Sanctuary

FILM REVIEW
SANCTUARY
Rated R
96 Minutes
Released May 19th

In my humble estimation, this is one of the best movies of the year. In fact, I would give it a handful of Oscar nominations. However, it’s not material for a movie night for the kids, even though the film illustrates how we adults retain much more of our childhood repertoire of action and reaction than we would like to think. Sanctuary is a black comedy/psychological study for adults. It’s a very smart film. The dynamic between the two protagonists shifts back and forth, like a game of tennis. Without knowing their entire background, you see deeply into these two and perhaps recognize your own strengths, flaws, and idiosyncrasies. A team of emerging talent shot this film in 18 days in a 1200-square-foot room. 

It began as a one-act play written by Micah Bloomberg in 2007, taking shape as a psychological “session” between a dominatrix and her client.  Director Zachary Wigon, whose career began as a film critic and director of a few short films, made his first full-length feature, The Heart Machine, in 2014. In 2020 Wigon was hired to write an episode of the TV series Homecoming, where he met Bloomberg, a former sound mixer who was a writer and executive producer on the show. Wigon mentioned to Bloomberg that he had always wanted to make a film about a dominatrix and her client, so Bloomberg excitedly sent him a copy of his play.

Wigon’s talent, as evidenced in the best directors, is to pull together extraordinary filmmakers and cast. The film would not be the gem that it is without Margaret Qualley as “Rebecca” and Christopher Abbott as “Hal.” In the screenplay, Bloomberg set out to create in Rebecca a woman whose choices would act like bombs, shocking the audience again and again. He admits, “This would not have worked with different actors. Margaret was able to make something that doesn’t make sense make sense. And Chris gets laughs just from cutaways of him listening.” Bloomberg also noted that Wigon used camera angles to emphasize the raw energy between the two. Wigon said that because the film was shot completely in one room, “You can’t go anywhere externally, so you have to go deeper into their heads.”

 

The two stars had known each other for a while and wanted to work together. Abbott, who is an outstanding theatre, film, and television actor, knows that if you want to let the audience see the comedy, you play it seriously. Qualley ingrained the script in her memory so that she was able to let go of the structure and be Rebecca.  Her greatest talent as an actress is that she seems to be able to buy into the idea that she has nothing to lose and puts it all out there without appearing to try too hard. That may be her nature. She left home at 14 to study ballet at the North Carolina School of the Arts. She was offered an apprenticeship to American Ballet Theatre in NYC, something any striving ballet dancer would kill for, as it’s only offered to the cream of the crop of students. At 16, she wrote to her Mom, who happens to be actress Andie McDowell, “Look, I don’t think I want to be a dancer anymore, so I’m going to quit ballet and stay here in New York City.” Qualley figured Mom couldn’t say no because she was so organized. She then traded dance for acting. Wigon trusted relatively unproven talents with the realization of this movie, Cinematographer Ludovica Isidori, who trained with an Italian fashion photographer, composer Ariel Marx, who has a master’s from NYU and draws from many genres to create unique worlds of sound, and editors Kate Brokaw and Lance Edmands.

The key is not to judge these characters. You need to see the world through their eyes. It’s about two highly intelligent and damaged people who seem to fit together like pieces of a puzzle and balance each other out. It’s crazy fun to watch their interplay.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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