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FILM REVIEW: The Sacrifice Game (2023)

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

The Sacrifice Game - New Release Review


Director: Jenn Wexler

Starring: Georgia Acken, Madison Baines, Mena Massoud, Olivia Scott Welch, Chloë Levine


Written by: Jenn Wexler, Sean Redlitz

Produced by: Heather Buckley, Todd Slater, Jenn Wexler

Cinematography by: Alexandre Bussière

Original Score by: Mario Sévigny


Synopsis:

It's bad enough that boarding school students Samantha and Clara can't go home for the holidays, but things take a deadly turn when a murderous gang arrives on their doorstep - just in time for Christmas.

Thoughts:

In recent years there has been an upsurge of horror films set during the festive season. With this trend filmmakers have taken glee in turning the most wonderful time of the year into something dark and twisted. Be it a bloodthirsty interpretation of 'The Grinch' from 'The Mean One' or the unstoppable killing machine dressed as Old Saint Nick in 'Christmas Bloody Christmas' there is a perverse delight to be found in these reinterpretations of the holiday's icons. This year is no different as we see the release of Shudder Exclusive 'The Sacrifice Game', a home invasion piece with a demonic twist.



Set a few days before Christmas in 1971, the action takes place at Blackvale boarding school where most of the students have headed home for the holidays. The only exceptions are Samantha (played by Madison Baines) and Clara (played by Georgia Acken) who are being looked after by their teacher Rose (Chloë Levine) and her boyfriend Jimmy (Gus Kenworthy). It has the makings of a peaceful holiday where they can come together in the spirit of the season to make the most of their situation. That is until the school is invaded by a gang of four blood thirsty cultists hell bent on summoning a demon on Christmas Day.

Right from the off director (and co-writer) Jenn Wexler shows that she isn't messing around with a brilliant prologue that shows the gang committing a sacrificial murder in the suburbs. It is blunt and brutal but the manner in which it is shot from outside the house looking in is impressive. It makes the viewer feel as helpless as the victims and as a result it is quite uncomfortable to watch. It is the perfect way to establish the villains of the piece as a Mason like group of killers who don't answer to reason in pursuit of their goals.



This coupled with her script co-written by Sean Redlitz does a fine job at establishing the characters at the school with Samantha's sense of curiosity, Clara withdrawing from her schoolmates and Rose trying to help the girls make the most out of their situation. It is these little character details established in a short space of time that go a long way to make you care about them whenever they are placed in peril. It is not just the writing that works effectively at doing this but the actor's performances (right across the board) too. The standout of the cast is Georgia Acken who locks you into her character with her stoic demeanour before having fun with the role in the second half of the film. Alongside this character work there is a great deal of mystery woven into the script and some nice touches of foreshadowing that pay off towards the end of the film.



The gang themselves are an eclectic yet menacing group of individuals for different reasons and provide so much of the film's tension. There's the smarmy leader of the group Jude (played by Mena Massoud), the beauty and brains, Maisie (played by Olivia Scott Welch), the stoic muscle Grant (played by Derek Johns) and the pathetic weasel of the group Doug (played by Laurent Pitre). Whilst not as extreme as the likes of the Firefly family from Rob Zombie's movies it is not just their despicable actions but how they revel in them that makes you eager in anticipation for them to get their comeuppance. This is epitomised with Jude who Massoud plays with so much arrogance that you hate him in the best way possible. The escalation of the conflict within the gang is also a credit to Wexler and Redlitz's script as the cracks in the group widen as the film progresses. It may seem predictable but it works well and is elevated by the performances.

With so many positives going for the film there is one thing that almost undoes it all and that is the pacing. There is a fine line between having a slow burn to build up tension and dragging a scene out too long and unfortunately 'The Sacrifice Game' does the latter too often. Like the days between Christmas Day and New Year's Day the film needlessly drags along at times interrupting the flow of the film which dispels a lot of the tension between major set pieces. Having said that, these set pieces really stand out and are brilliantly executed by Wexler. One such moment is the mock Christmas dinner where the tension really comes to the fore because of the unpredictability of the gang and how heinous they act towards their victims without pushing it too far. Hanging over the film is Mario Sévigny's rich score steeped in mystery that evokes the likes of Danny Elfman and Christopher Young's work to great effect. It works so well in tandem with the great production design of the school that goes a long way at steeping the audience in the time period.



For what is her sophomore feature, Jenn Wexler crafts an intriguing and enthralling holiday horror. Whilst there is an imbalance with the pacing of the film, the well crafted script with a devilish twist and some fine performances from the ensemble elevate it above other home invasion films with a similar set up, leaving you keen to see what the filmmaker has in store for the future.


Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️


'The Sacrifice Game' streams exclusively on Shudder on December 8th

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