Christmas may be over but that doesn’t mean I’m still not watching Christmas movies. Mainly because one month isn’t enough for me to fit them all in. Since I have a Shudder subscription and nothing to do last night, I checked out Jenn Wexler’s (The Ranger) new movie, THE SACRIFICE GAME.
The movie opens several days before Christmas in 1971 where some carolers are singing in front of a house. They leave and four people (Jude, Maise, Grant and Doug) come up and knock on the door. When it is answered, the couple inside is brutally murdered by the quartet–who are actually a Manson-like cult–and we get the title card for the movie.
At the Blackvale Academy, a school for girls, it’s time to close for Christmas break. Samantha, a student, was looking forward to going home but her father calls at the last minute and tell her to stay at the school. She’s displeased but tries to make the most of it as her teacher Rose and another student named Clara will be there as well as holdovers. They hear about the so-called Christmas killers but don’t think much of it as the murders happened over 30 miles away.
While Rose’s boyfriend Jimmy is running some kids to the train station, the killers show up at Blackvale after hitting a deer and encountering a cop, resulting in their driver Doug catching a bullet in the arm. Rose lets them in to help them but it quickly turns bad when they reveal themselves to be the killers and they capture everyone in the building. It turns out they aren’t just murdering for fun, but trying to bring a demon to Earth and it seems like Rose and the girls are the sacrifices needed to finish their evil work. But all isn’t quite what it seems and before Christmas night is over, the killers themselves will know terror as the girls fight back against them.
I was a big fan of Wexler’s THE RANGER and when I saw this one was directed by her, I knew I had to watch it. Especially since it basically sounded like a slasher version of THE HOLDOVERS, which I enjoyed a lot and wanted something to fill that retro vibe. While the cinematography doesn’t quite capture the time as well as that movie, the film presents a very retro vibe from the jump and it felt like I was back in my hometown growing up. I feel like the school is a bit empty in comparison but when you have a lot more space to fill and it isn’t like Harry Potter where the halls are going to be decked out anyway.
THE SACRIFICE GAME has some fun twists to it, and starting off you think it might be something like a YOU’RE NEXT but it went in a completely different direction that I wasn’t expecting. It sort of sticks the landing but it is brought down a bit by a middling middle act and some clunky exposition/dialogue, which makes the 99 minute runtime feel like it drags a bit. However the stops are pulled out by the final act and it’s a wild race to the end.
The cast is pretty solid, with Mena Massoud being the most recognizable name as he chews the scenery as the maniacal Jude. Madison Baines does well as Samantha, reminding me with her expressions of a young Alyson Hannigan, and you want to see her come out of the situation in one piece, even though that doesn’t seem likely. The others don’t stand out as much but do well with their roles, though some of the killers seem to flip-flop between being psychos and caring which is a weird shift in tone, especially in the beginning.
My biggest gripe about the movie is the title, oddly enough. THE SACRIFICE GAME doesn’t make much sense as there’s isn’t a game and that makes it sound like some weird board game or party game people are playing instead of it being them actually trying to raise a demon. Something like “The Final Sacrifice” or “The Christmas Killers” might be a little less confusing, or even “The Holdovers II” to get that 1970s random retitling vibe. I think it would help more people check it out if the title was a little more straightforward, even if the plot is anything but.
Another solid film by Wexler and I’m excited to see what she does next. Currently streaming on Shudder. Check it out.