TIFF 2022 | Sanctuary (Zachary Wigon, US)  —  Special Presentations

By Josh Lewis

Fantasy and class are the name of the game in Zachary Wigon’s claustrophobic chamber thriller Sanctuary. Similarly to his debut 2014 feature The Heart Machine—which took a bleak look at the impulse to be romantically dishonest about your online vs. physical self—Sanctuary centers itself around a crumbling hermetic relationship afraid to move into the outside world. That relationship takes form here between the boyish heir to a hotel chain empire Hal (Christopher Abbot) and his hypnotic for-hire dominatrix Rebecca (Margaret Qualley), who together play scripted, psychosexual master-and-slave mind games with the hopes of achieving an emotional catharsis that will make Hal a more confident and assertive business operator. However, when Hal tries to cut things off with Rebecca, claiming that he’s ready to step into his father’s shoes, the financial tensions between employer and employee start to blur with the personal history and storytelling they’ve woven together, leading eventually into an absurd form of contract renegotiation involving of blackmail, humiliation, and sex at knifepoint. For what is ultimately such a locked-down piece of sharply drawn verbiage, Wigon displays a pretty skilled hand for the formal dexterity and stage direction necessary to spin these two magnetic (and very funny) performances into an engrossing web of teasing, probing, and smirkingly vindictive behavior. The cumulative perversity of the shifting gendered and class power dynamics is sustained so well it’s actually hard not to feel like the eventual conclusions are a bit too easy and reductive, even if Sanctuary is still satisfyingly aberrant as an oddball romance.