As Hal Porterfield (Christopher Abbott, "James White") makes phone calls in his beautifully appointed, womblike hotel suite, there is a knock at the door.  He admits a professional looking blonde woman who introduces herself as Rebecca Marin (Margaret Qualley, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood") of Lichter & Haynes, come to fill out a questionnaire about his background now that he is taking the reins of the Porterfield Hotel Group after his father’s recent passing.  But when Marin’s questions turn luridly personal, we realize there is a game afoot and before the evening is over, a panicking Hal will begin to stutter their safe word, “Sanctuary.”

Laura's Review: B

It isn’t until the very final scene that we realize that what director Zachary Wigon and writer Micah Bloomberg have crafted is a perverse romcom, a feature of a film which continually keeps us guessing.  Even after we learn Rebecca is performing from a script Hal has paid her to use, the filmmakers zig and zag, an off script moment revealed as nothing of the sort, what we think scripted turning out to be real.  The two-hander gives Qualley the juicier role and she runs with it, the actress convincing us of myriad motivations with sly wit.  Abbott, who has been evincing an inclination towards masochistic roles after submitting to Mia Wasikowski in 2018’s “Piercing” and losing control to Andrea Riseborough in “Possessor,” is naturally more reactive here, yet he layers in a haunted quality and his fighting spirit escalates as his costar’s gambits grow more preposterous.

The film can be quite funny.  When Hal refuses to confirm or answer insulting questions about his sex life, Rebecca writes down ‘Hal f&*%s like Caligula.’  There is considerable tension as she controls his sexual release in true dominatrix fashion.  But when Hal informs Rebecca that due to his new role, their relationship will be ending, power shifts swing wildly.  A $32,000 watch intended as a parting gift is sniffed at, Rebecca demanding millions, claiming it was she who prepared him for the job.  When Hal refuses to honor her demands, suddenly there is a secret videotape.  And Rebecca is quick to make note of family photos and hotel plaques, sussing out daddy issues to weaponize.  Hal’s notions of bargaining collateral are scotched when she casually mentions an ovulation app, then roles are reversed once again.

Jason Singleton's production design encompasses Hal’s suite, a hallway and elevator interior, but he uses color (blood red, deep teal and green), pattern and texture so well the film remains visually interesting.  Cinematographer Ludovica Isidori’s ("Test Pattern") camera dips, slants and turns upside down, adding more liveliness.  Wigon controls his film like ocean waves, constantly cresting and falling.  If “Sanctuary” ends a bit too abruptly, it nonetheless ends on a high note, Qualley and Abbott giving proof to the concept that opposites attract, Rebecca the yang to Hal’s yin.

Robin's Review: B

This is one of those movies that starts you off down one path but shakes you up as the story unfolds and we learn, gradually, that things are not what they seem. The “professional” relationship that the film begins with is slowly turned on its ear as it morphs into a very different “professional” bond.

What becomes obvious as the story rolls out is that Hal is really insecure and totally unsure of himself – not a good thing when you run a world-class hotel chain. The young woman, Rebecca (Margaret Qualley), is sort of a therapist there to help her client adapt and accept his “condition,” but is not a humanitarian project. What she is, though, is a dominatrix and really there to tear down his self esteem and get what she wants – a position of power in his company and a whole lot of money.

The fun in this lengthy interchange is Qualley’s performance as the crafty Rebecca, a woman of determination and with the psychological skills to get what she wants. Hal is a ready target for her as she pushes all his buttons to attain her goals – whether he likes it or not. It is a clever cat and mouse game with Rebecca the crafty feline and Hal her mousy prey.

Neon releases "Sanctuary" in select theaters on 5/19, expanding in subsequent weeks.