30th Aug2023

Frightfest 2023: ‘The Sacrifice Game’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Mena Massoud, Olivia Scott Welch, Gus Kenworthy, Madison Baines, Derek Johns, Laurent Pitre, Chloë Levine, Georgia Acken | Written by Jenn Wexler, Sean Redlitz | Directed by Jenn Wexler

Directed by Jenn Wexler (who co-wrote with Sean Redlitz), The Sacrifice Game is a mash-up of two reliable horror sub-genres: the home invasion thriller and the summoning-a-demon supernatural chiller. As such, it’s an entertaining and frequently rather nasty slice of horror hokum, with an inventive and fun central twist.

Set over Christmas, 1971 (meaning it qualifies as a Christmas movie), the film opens by establishing that four members of a Manson Family-like demonic cult – sadistic charmer Jude (Mena Massoud), hulking Vietnam vet Grant (Derek Johns), driver Doug (Laurent Pitre) and sexy ringleader Maisie (Olivia Scott Welch) – have been performing blood sacrifices on people after invading their homes. Their next target is Blackvale Academy, an elite boarding school where Maisie first encountered the book on black magic that set her on this path.

The gang arrive at the school intending to use it as a base from which to summon a demon who will supposedly grant their desires. However, they have reckoned without Samantha (Madison Baines) and Clara (Georgia Acken), two young left-behind-for-the-holidays students, who realise that they will have to take on the gang themselves if they are to survive the night.

The superb cast does an excellent job of carving out distinct personalities within their relatively familiar archetypes. Pitre is particularly amusing as the afterthought of the group, who’s only really there because they needed his car, while Chlöe Levine makes a strong impression as the kindly teacher who’s meant to be looking after the girls for the holiday period.

However, the undisputed stand-out is young Georgia Acken as the reclusive, borderline invisible Clara, who turns out to have hidden depths. Her performance is full of surprises (she even manages a little dance routine) and she single-handedly ensures that the film is worth seeing.

Wexler is clearly familiar with the expected trappings of both the home invasion and demon-summoning genres, and she plays them off each other in interesting ways, subverting various tropes along the way. She also infuses the film with a strongly suspenseful atmosphere, by establishing early on that no characters are safe and not everyone is likely to make it to the final reel.

On top of that, the script clicks together nicely (especially in terms of the role played by the school itself), seeding ideas early on that will pay off later. In addition, Wexler keeps things interesting by posing a series of intriguing questions, such as the significance of the patches of skin the gang remove from their victims, or the exact nature of Clara’s obvious weirdness.

In fairness, there is a certain amount of treading water in the first half of the film, but it picks up considerably in the second half, once the tables start to turn. However, it also slightly fumbles the climax, which is clearly intended to have significant dramatic and emotional impact but falls short on both counts.

In short, this is an engaging horror mash-up, enlivened by an inventive script and a memorable turn from Georgia Acken. The ending strongly hints at a possible sequel, and on the evidence here, that would be a welcome prospect.

*** 3/5

The Sacrifice Game screened as part of this year’s Frightfest London


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