Christmas break at an all-girls school in the late 70s, and a quartet of killers come calling…

The Sacrifice Game

By Rob Hunter · Published on July 30th, 2023

There’s no real template when it comes to becoming a successful film director, and while some stumble right out of the gate only to find their stride with a follow-up, others knock it out of the park with their debut. Jenn Wexler sits arguably in the former camp as her first feature, The Ranger (2018), doesn’t quite work outside of its lead actor, Chloë Levine. Five years later, though, Wexler’s sophomore effort storms onto the screen with slick visuals, a fun and twisty script, and bloody thrills. The Sacrifice Game is a smartly paced lesson in being careful what you wish for and an entertaining ride from bloody start to even bloodier finish.

It’s the late 70s, and Samantha (Madison Baines) is wrapping up her first semester at Blackvale Academy for Girls and ready to go home for Christmas break. She’s out of luck, though, as her dad cancels on her last minute leaving her to spend the holiday alone at school with only two others — a kindly teacher named Rose (Levine) and a small, shy outcast named Clara (Georgia Acken). It probably wouldn’t be that bad of a time if it weren’t for the quartet of killers slashing and slaughtering their way across the state with Blackvale as their final destination. As snow falls outside the bodies start dropping inside, and the killers’ devilish plan is revealed.

The Sacrifice Game is a fun slice of horror goodness blending slasher thrills, “home” invasion shocks, and supernatural shenanigans into one energetic good time. Wexler delivers a glow up from her debut to this sophomore film that sees big leaps in every area starting with an opening sequence that, while seemingly inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), finds its own groove, style, and satisfaction. The films visuals continue to catch the eye as Wexler and cinematographer Alexandre Brussière find shadowy depths and the warmth of candlelight throughout the school’s heavy interior architecture.

Visual thrills continue through the film’s numerous kills and suspense beats, and while a minimal amount of CG blood is visible, the film is almost gleeful in its spurting displays of the gooey, sticky, practical red stuff. Some characters on the periphery are the first to go, but the script (by Wexler and Sean Redlitz) soon makes it clear that no one’s truly safe here. That kind of uncertainty, along with one of two tricks up the film’s sleeves, makes for a film that both entertains and keeps viewers on their toes. There are nitpicks to be had — one character’s late choice needs a little more meat on the bones in regard to its setup and justification — but the entertainment wins out by the time the credits roll.

The best behind the scenes elements aren’t always enough if the casting isn’t right, but The Sacrifice Game succeeds across the board on that count. Levine is always a bright spot, and it continues to boggle the mind as to why she isn’t headlining bigger films or her own series by now. Relative newcomers Baines and Acken are equally strong, and the three of them work extremely well together as we see their friendly bond form before the shit hits the fan. We’re quickly concerned with their wellbeing, and that raises the stakes on the horror side of things. Side note, don’t be surprised if you think of Kristen Stewart’s turn in Panic Room (2002) while watching Acken at work here.

The quartet of villains are compelling and charismatic in their own ways starting with Mena Massoud‘s aggressive turn as the group’s leader, Jude. The blade-happy killer is a far cry from Aladdin (2019) in the best possible ways. Olivia Scott Welch chases her triumphant turn in 2021’s Fear Street trilogy as a carefree killer and the gang’s smartest member, and Derek Johns plays Grant, the big-framed muscle who prefers glares over speech whenever possible. The film’s handful of comedic beats, meanwhile, often fall at the feet of Laurent Pitre as the weaselly Doug who’s the first to call out and question every step that doesn’t quite go as he was promised.

The horror genre shifts back and forth over time, and the case could be made that we’re currently (and hopefully) in the tail end of the mopey, grief-stricken slow burn cycle of movies. The Sacrifice Game isn’t burdened by heavy thoughts or overly serious connotations — it’s just a fun, thrilling, and sometimes surprising good time for fans of cultish killers, underdog protagonists, and devilish antics. It won’t scare you or leave you depressed, but it will have you smiling and excited for whatever the hell Wexler decides to do next.

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Related Topics: Fantasia Film Festival, Horror, Shudder

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he’s so damn young. He’s our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists ‘Broadcast News’ as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.