Review – Sanctuary Dream by Grant Carsten

Writer-director Grant Carsten’s Sanctuary Dream is a potent and powerful depiction of autism that uses the visual medium to zap the audience directly into the shoes of such individuals, allowing ordinary people to experience the trauma of autism firsthand.

Writer-director Grant Carsten’s Sanctuary Dream is a potent and powerful depiction of autism that uses the visual medium to zap the audience directly into the shoes of such individuals, allowing ordinary people to experience the trauma of autism firsthand. Starring Traven Thomas as Faisal Ost, the film charts Faisal’s difficult life as domestic disturbances, violence and homelessness force this autistic individual to reluctantly find peace in his life.

Right off the bat, the performances by the actors are fascinating. Traven Thomas as Faisal is a revelation as he dives deep into his troubled character to elicit a performance that is raw and authentic. Kristin Grismore as his mother Julia and John Allan as his father Harris are also great.

Low budget films have to usually rely on the actors’ performances to stand out and here, everyone in the main and supporting cast has done a phenomenal job to bring the screenplay to life.

Traven Thomas as Faisal is a revelation as he dives deep into his troubled character to elicit a performance that is raw and authentic. ©Sanctuary Dream

“From the extreme closeups of characters depicting uneasiness to the repetitive actions, the film goes above and beyond in depicting the autistic experience.”

The most fascinating thing about Sanctuary Dream is that it uses the visual medium to convey how autistic individuals feel. From the extreme closeups of characters depicting uneasiness to the repetitive actions, the film goes above and beyond in depicting the autistic experience.

The cinematography has a specific purpose; the camera angles, the color grading and camera motion all work together to convey to us the autistic experience. The out of focus shots and the vibrant color depict the confusion present inside Faisal’s mind as he struggles to make sense of the world around him.

The music is another thing that works really well. The score elevates the entire film, conveying feelings and emotions that cannot be expressed through the visual medium alone.

John Allan as Harris Ost (the father) ©Sanctuary Dream

Carsten melds the narrative with the pacing and editing masterfully, creating a narrative that slows down when he wants to and speeds up in moments of tension. This also helps us understand the sensory perception of Faisal himself as the autistic protagonist experiences the world in line with his disorder. Faisal’s reality is rattling, and the film places us in the first-row seat to help us experience the unsettling realities of a life with such a disorder.

“Sanctuary Dream is an unconventional yet powerful film that succeeds in leaving a mark on your mind”

Kristin Grismore as Julia Ost ©Sanctuary Dream

Running at a brisk 70 minutes, Sanctuary Dream is an unconventional yet powerful film that succeeds in leaving a mark on your mind. While its low budget prevents it from truly breaking out, Sanctuary Dream is nonetheless a praiseworthy attempt by first time director Grant Carsten. Not only does the film nail the aesthetic of this disorder, but the heartfelt story that makes up the bulk of the narrative moves us, enabling us to identify with autistic individuals and thus, lend a helping hand to their difficult journeys.

With the film now starting to hit award circuits, audiences and critics will have a chance to experience first-hand what is simply a unique visual and visceral experience.

Director Statement – Grant Carsten

Though there are definitely films which depict Autism, almost all of them show viewpoints from the other side. ‘Rain Man’ and ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?’, though powerful movies, depict Autism through what Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp see in Dustin Hoffman and Leo; ‘The Accountant’, though great, shows mostly the aftermath of an assassin who learned to cope with and hide his disabilities; ‘Life Animated’, once again great, is another autistic documentary which shows an overdose of the parents, and Disney Movies making sense to Autists is not new.

Forrest Gump (it’s implied) and Temple Grandin are exceptions, though it is clear the viewpoint speaks as a consultant rather than the feeling. This is where my film differs.

I’m not saying my motion picture is better than any of these. Far from it. All these movies are rightfully considered masterpieces and it should stay that way. What I am saying is that no movie which has depicted Autism has simulated what being Autistic feels like. That is exactly where Sanctuary Dream differs.

Whether it’s through the story or the technical stuff, Sanctuary Dream goes above and beyond in making sure its audience feels Autistic. The techniques include, but are not limited to — cinematography and edit cuts which create a sense of constant attack; strong color tints and slightly cheesy acting to give an unreliable narrator quality; and Music which states what could not be verbally or physically told.

Looking at the final result, I am proud to say that Sanctuary Dream is my first feature.

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