The writing is where the issues with the drama lie. More specifically, the writing of Braxton. For all the attention paid to Faisal, it is his story after all, Braxton is left shortchanged. After his mom and brother both leave their dad, he goes to stay with them at Martha’s. There, he talks about how angry he is that they left him there and that they don’t know that the dad did not also hit him, and he continually talks about how violent and dangerous Faisal can be. None of these things are shown or explored, so they come across as deflecting blame. By not showing the audience these things, the film feels to give Braxton an arc of any kind (even Julia has one). This makes him one-note and the single most frustrating aspect of the film, but not the only one.
There’s a scene where an entitled woman is driving her car in a park where she shouldn’t be. She almost hits a cyclist, and when confronted with her reckless behavior, she goes off, calling the clearly caucasian man various racial slurs. It is a wholly unnecessary scene, as the focus is none of the main characters and is just an odd diversion from the story. The dialogue also vacillates at times between believable and too on the nose for its own good. Most of the time, the script allows the audience to feel overwhelmed or confused the same as Faisal by its visuals, with the dialogue only existing when needed. But, sometimes, it feels like the film is trying to tie everything up in a neat little bow, so some heart-to-hearts feels unearned and more Hallmark-y than intended. The oddest part of that is it seems Carsten knows feelings can’t be contained to such niceties, which is why Sanctuary Dream exists, to begin with.
“…uses a diverse color palette to signify the current mood of Faisal…”
Traven Thomas is remarkable as Faisal. Every moment of confusion, honest earnestness and joy (when he’s playing music on his keyboard) registers believable across his face. Grismore is also quite good as his mom. When crying into Martha’s shoulders, Julia’s relief over leaving her husband, and fear of what she’ll do now, feels authentic. Despite issues with how the character is written, David Carsten is believable as the always angry Braxton. As Martha and Phil, Johansen and Bodily are excellent together. Their quietness and sincerity are a nice contrast to the loud violence of the living situation Faisal was in earlier.
Sanctuary Dream is a sure-footed, though flawed debut from Grant Carsten. The film’s strong use of colors and extreme close-ups visually put the audience into the mindset of someone on the spectrum. While some of his writing and characterizations need work, Carsten is definitely a filmmaker to keep an eye on for.