Injecting a festive twist into what initially appears as Manson family-style slayings before morphing into a home invasion thriller, Jenn Wexler’s second feature unfolds against the backdrop of Christmas 1971 at the slightly foreboding Blackvale Catholic girls’ boarding school. The story revolves around two misfit students, Samantha (Madison Baines) and Clara (Georgia Acken), who find themselves at the school during the winter break, under the supervision of their teacher Rose (Chloë Levine) and her boyfriend Jimmy (Gus Kenworthy, an Olympic medallist turned actor). Although neither girl is thrilled about staying behind, the unfolding events reveal that their boredom will be the least of their worries.
Keeping an audience guessing requires a delicate balance between storytelling surprises and overall story-world coherence, respecting the rules of different genres. Wexler’s script, co-written with Sean Redlitz, masterfully navigates this balance, demonstrating an understanding of the need for both surprises and a cohesive narrative. The Sacrifice Game is a testament to the filmmakers’ affection and respect for horror movies, offering a unique take on the genre that defies initial expectations.
The film benefits from an exceptional cast delivering well-judged performances that sustain the tonal shifts. Mena Massoud, exuding Christian-Slater-in-Heathers energy, delivers a menacing and over-the-top portrayal as the cult’s alpha dog, showcasing a side of him distinct from his role as the hero in Disney’s Aladdin. Laurent Pitre brings a low-key delight to the character of Doug, the closest thing the gang has to a nice guy, offering a unique social dynamic within the group. Finally, Georgia Acken’s performance recalls the early work of Christina Ricci, portraying a quiet loner with a presence of mind that defies her apparent social status and age. Acken’s compelling portrayal suggests a promising future for the young talent.