Co-written and directed by Jenn Wexler, her second feature after The Ranger, this is a fun and interesting horror movie that mixes some bloody mutilation with a dash of demonology and a sprinkling of festive holiday, ummmm, cheer. It shows Wexler continuing to move in the right direction with her directorial career, showcasing her ability to provide a fresh lick of paint on some familiar horror movie tropes while also having the confidence to deliver some conventional plot points that will have observant film fans smiling knowingly as things start to turn out as expected.
Samantha (Madison Baines) and Clara (Georgia Acken) are two young girls who end up staying at their boarding school during the Christmas holiday break. There's nobody else around, with the exception of a couple of young staff members (Rose, played by Chloë Levine, and Jimmy, played by Gus Kenworthy), so it's probably going to be a dull time for the girls. That doesn't turn out to be the case though, not at all, because a group of murderous individuals turn up at the door of the school, quickly making their way into the building and revealing their deadly intentions. This group, seemingly headed up by Jude (Mena Massoud), wants to get everything in place to summon a demon. Maybe they don't really know what they're doing though. And if you don't really know what you're doing while trying to summon a demon then you could end up in all kinds of trouble.
Having worked on the script with first-timer Sean Redlitz, Wexler does a good job of quickly setting up the main characters and establishing the central location while leaving a lot of room for the developments that are due throughout the second half of the film. Viewers get all of the information that they need, and not much more, and things are established in a way that leaves everyone and everything available to be violently removed from the proceedings at any moment.
Although Baines and Acken seem to be the potential focus of the film, there's a fluid movement around all of the characters onscreen, with changes in power and loyalties creating a nervous energy that makes everyone a lot less sure of themselves as they were when they first entered the screen. Baines and Acken are both good, but neither actress has to carry the film on their young shoulders. The weight is shared out between the equally talented Massoud, Levine, Kenworthy, Olivia Scott Welch, Derek Johns, and Laurent Pitre. I say equally talented, but both Levine and Welch manage to stand out from the pack with their respective performances, both becoming characters that you want to see survive the craziness for very different reasons.
Although I didn't like The Ranger as much as many other people, The Sacrifice Game is a film I'll happily recommend to people after something new that doesn't have a big studio marketing department behind it. There are things that hold it back (I think a bit more build up could have helped, giving us some more tension, and the location could have been turned into more of an essential aspect), but it's generally quite a good time, it has enough trimmings to remind you that it's set during the Christmas holiday period, and I can already envision myself rewatching it while keeping an eye out for the more subtle character moments that play into the bigger picture.
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