To get the most out of Sanctuary Dream, it is best to know that everything is filtered through the lens of its lead character, Faisal (Traven Thomas). Faisal is autistic, so all the emotions are larger than life, and don’t always land as naturally as people not on the spectrum have come to expect. This does mean there is a fundamental disconnect between the somewhat exaggerated feelings being shown and the grounded, intense way the movie wants the viewer to feel.
However, there is a crucial difference between Grant Carsten’s feature-length debut here and other movies – most movies do not take this approach on purpose, whereas it is part and parcel of the entire experience that is Sanctuary Dream. Not to say the film hits that right balance entirely, but more on that in a bit.
“…after things have gotten too heated for him to handle anymore, Faisal leaves…”
Faisal’s home life is not great. His father (John Allan) beats his mom, Julia (Kristin Grismore), and berates the boy for little things. Braxton (David Carsten), Faisal’s older brother, regularly hits, harasses, and yells at him. One night, after things have gotten too heated for him to handle anymore, Faisal leaves home.
He wanders the city for a few days, meeting both helpful and rude people along the way. After being returned home, his dad’s temper is even worse than usual, so both Faisal and his mom leave. They stay at Martha’s (Kendeyl Johansen) house. Martha is Julia’s best friend from school, and she and her husband, Phil (Cj Bodily), are kind and patient people. All this change confuses Faisal to some degree, though he appreciates their kindness as best he can.
The film opens stating its intentions to replicate how those with autism see the world and deal with emotion. To that end, Carsten, who wrote and directed Sanctuary Dream, uses a diverse color palette to signify the current mood of Faisal visually. It works and does indeed put the audience into his headspace in a clear, intimate matter, without overburdening the script with cumbersome exposition. From a visual standpoint, a few awkward edits aside, the movie looks pretty good.