Horror is back in a big way. Not that it ever truly went anywhere, but like anything else, peaks and valleys in the Hollywood genre machine have brought us periods in recent memory that have left horror fans extremely waning. Thankfully, the last few years have seen a bevy of brutal releases, racking up body counts and box office numbers.
Callbacks to the slasher heyday like Terrifier and Scream have reinvigorated interested in the genre’s tried and true slice and dice formula. Meanwhile, trailblazing reinventions like Happy Death Day and Pearl continue to show that stories of violent killers with sharp objects are endlessly adaptable to the times and can be wed with just about any other movie genre.
Enter Jenn Wexler’s The Sacrifice Game. The film begins as a prototypical slasher the likes of which Rob Zombie would probably be very proud of, before flipping much of the traditional formula on its head, becoming equal parts gory ode to the ’70s and ’80s Satanic Panic and macabre Christmas comedy, with elements of just about every other manner of scary tale thrown in for good measure.
The Sacrifice Game Should Be Experienced with as Few Spoilers as Possible
Talking about the plot of The Sacrifice Game is difficult because so much of the movie relies on the viewer having no idea what’s going to happen next. What we can reveal are the basics: a pair of young girls, both outcasts, are forced to stay over the Christmas holidays at the boarding school they attend, for different reasons. They are not friends; in fact they barely know each other at all, but along with their young teacher and guardian, who is equally un-thrilled about being stuck in the middle of nowhere for the holidays but trying to make the best of it, they begin to form an unlikely bond.
Meanwhile, a gang of psychopathic cultists, dubbed by the media as the Christmas Killers, are tearing through small town America, ringing on doorbells and slicing apart those unlucky enough to be home and to answer.
Worlds eventually collide, and we find out that there is, in fact, a method to their madness. But before that, we’re treated to some truly brutal kills carried out by our villainous foursome, who are equally positioned early on as the source of much of the film’s comic relief. Mena Massoud of Aladdin fame takes on the role of pack leader here, and it’s clear that the young actor is having the time of his life breaking bad. His crew is a nearly lovable gang of misfits, who can be terrifying in one moment and utterly stooge-like in the next.
The Sacrifice Game Has a Standout Ensemble Cast
The movie offers plenty of cannon fodder and buckets of blood (in a very literal sense), but it also takes the time to offer a surprising amount of real character development. This is an ensemble show, and the cast performances are all standout, but young Georgia Acken, in her first role, absolutely steals the spotlight. She is likely to be in high demand after this movie. The developing bond between her character Clara, and Samantha, played by Madison Baines, is the heart of the movie, but there are plenty of emotional beats to go around. In between body parts being sliced off and all that other good stuff, that is.
The movie doesn’t skimp on the visuals, either. There’s a dance scene that’s highly reminiscent of the one seen in Ti West’s X, with the potential to reach the higher upper echelons of other recent viral fare like Jenna Ortega’s dance in Wednesday or Daniel Bruhl’s in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. There are trippy moments that recall Dario Argento’s giallo masterpiece, Suspiria. The school itself is anything but welcoming, and its dark, pseudo-gothic interior becomes more and more sinister as the film progresses.
It Gets a Little Hammy, but Fans of a Good Revenge Story Will Eat it Up
In the third act, as the endgame begins to come into clear focus, the film does start to spin its wheels a little bit, and there are moments that get particularly hammy. Depending on what you’re looking for in a horror film, this may be your only serious complaint after watching it. But if you love watching villains chew scenery and aren’t above a little bit of morose revenge play, you’re guaranteed to feel satisfied by the film’s close.
The Sacrifice Game is entirely self-contained and works as a standalone story. That said, its ending, which takes the classic final girl trope and gives it a devilish spin, leaves plenty of room for a sequel. After all, this wouldn’t be a horror movie if it didn’t take its time in providing new, bloody possibilities for its surviving protagonists (who may or may not be the characters you’re expecting) with a whole world of new bodies to be dropped.
The Sacrifice Game premiered on July 28th at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. If you’re nearby Ville-Marie, it will screen again on Aug. 9th at 9:30 P.M. Make sure to watch this space for more information on the film’s wide release.