The Sacrifice Game (2023) Review
The 70s seem to be back in vogue. Earlier this week I reviewed Abigail, set in 1976, and now we have The Sacrifice Game, which opens with Mansonesque home invasion on December 22nd, 1971. Jude (Mena Massoud, Aladdin, Strange But True), Grant (Derek Johns, Candy Cane Christmas, Moonfall), Doug (Laurent Pitre, Future Man, FANatic) and Maisie (Olivia Scott Welch, The Party Slasher, Fear Street Trilogy), dubbed The Christmas Killers by the press, kill a man and his wife and use their blood to paint a sigil on the house’s window.
At the Blackvale School For Girls they have other things on their mind, like Christmas vacation which is about to begin. But not for Samantha (Madison Baines, 1UP, The Young Arsonists) sent there by her stepfather who doesn’t want her back and Clara (Georgia Acken, Lucid, Come Fly With Me) the obligatory “strange girl”. Since they’re staying, Rose (Chloë Levine, Savage Youth, Depraved) one of the teachers, and the school handyman Jimmy (Gus Kenworthy, Sharknado 5: Global Swarming, American Horror Story)have been tasked with babysitting them.
But at least they won’t have to worry about being bored, they’re going to have some guests who know how to throw a killer holiday party.
The Sacrifice Game marks Jenn Wexler’s return after nearly dropping off the map after her debut film, The Ranger. Directing and co-writing with Sean Redlitz she gives us a very nicely paced opening act that delivers enough mayhem from the quartet of killers to fill the viewer’s appetite for horror intercut with our introductions to the film’s other four characters. And they don’t waste time getting all of them under the same roof, either.
Of course, it’s no coincidence that their paths cross, Blackvale has a dark history that predates the school and one of them has a connection to it. But the Christmas Killers are in for a very unpleasant surprise, several of them, actually. Viewers should find those twists a bit more enjoyable as the film unwinds in a bloody series of revelations and of course deceptions. Did they really expect a demon to play by the rules?
Wexter and Redlitz deliver enough twists in the final act to keep viewers guessing right up until the end. Yes, one major plot point was a bit too obvious, but plenty of the others, especially who dies and in what order, will keep you off guard as things move at a rapid pace towards an ending that, in an odd sort of way, could be considered happy. And unlike The Ranger where I had a hard time caring if most of the cast lived or died, The Sacrifice Game manages to make its protagonists quite easy to cheer for. It also manages to let us feel some empathy for some of the villains as well.
Baines and Acken deliver two impressive performances that form The Sacrifice Game’s core, both with their natures and the complicated relationship between them. Acken also gets to let loose in the final act while avoiding hamming it up. Derek Johns, who spends most of the film in the background as the hulking Grant, gets to show what he can do when his time in Vietnam and its effect on him when Clara brings it up.
Standing in for The Blackvale School for Girls is the old Oka Abbey in Oka, Québec, which makes for a great location, with huge rooms and passageways underneath them which look like somewhere you would find a demon hanging out. As with the abandoned facility in Black Mold it gives the proceedings a feeling of authenticity it’s hard to get from a sound stage, and cinematographer Alexandre Bussière (Montreal Girls, Sortie 67) takes full advantage of it.
There is plenty of blood spilt along the way, from stabbings to skinnings and a human skin jigsaw puzzle. Special effects foreman Jean-Francois Bruneau (Blood Quantum, Aquaslash) and his crew deliver enough bloody practical effects to colour things a festive shade of red. CGI thankfully is mostly limited to a low-key transformation scene.
With an inventive script, solid performances and plenty of gore, The Sacrifice Game is an enjoyable piece of seasonal slaughter. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another five years for Wexler’s next film.
The Sacrifice Game is available to stream on Shudder.