Starring: Mena Massoud, Olivia Scott Welch and Gus Kenworthy
Directed by: Jenn Wexler
Running Time: 90 minutes
Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
My partner and I enjoy doing a Christmas movie marathon every year in December. Generally, she picks the Christmas movies and I find a horror Christmas film that she’ll actually enjoy. While any horror fan would think that’s easy, she’s not really the kind of person who would enjoy “Silent Night, Deadly Night” or “Black Christmas.” It needs to have a heartwarming element or some form of character redemption. Thankfully I may have found this year’s pick with “The Sacrifice Game.”
You wouldn’t think a film like “The Sacrifice Game” could be heartwarming after it’s opening minutes, where we witness the brutal murder of a happy couple three days before Christmas. Jude, played by Mena Massoud who I last saw play Aladdin in the 2019 live-action adaptation, and three others make-up the cult that’s traveling about the 1971 countryside, cutting the flesh off people as part of an ancient ritual to summon a demon. We cut to an all-girls boarding school where we find students, Clara (Georgia Acken) and Samantha (Madison Baines), along with a teacher and her boyfriend. Clara and Samantha bond over their abandonment. We learn that Samantha was intentionally left behind at the school for holidays and that the loner Clara suffers from self-harm. The unlikely duo become friends as teacher tries to make things cheery for the two, even getting them gifts. Then the cult shows up for Christmas and all hell, quite literally, breaks loose.
Despite the gruesome kills, yuletide bloodlust and viciousness of the cult, I will reiterate that “The Sacrifice Game” is surprisingly heartwarming, much like how “Bad Santa” found humanity in a booze-soaked Santa. While the film may feel familiar, it does a fantastic job of twisting the narrative in the latter half of the film. “The Sacrifice Game” does an admirable job of warming your heart after forcing you to endure nearly an hour of brutality. It also helps that it’s one of those films where you can just tell that the group of murderers will get their comeuppance.
The film is also bolstered by the performances of the killers, specifically Massoud who chews on the scenery so ravenously, you begin to hate him for how good he is at portraying a sociopath. Acken and Baines work well with each other. I’m always impressed how horror films can find good child actors that don’t outstay their welcome or get on your nerves. Acken and Baines play such a delightful budding duo as they bring their own outcast misery to the table. Acken outshines Baines when it counts though.
While the movie does feel a tad too long, director/writer Jenn Wexler squeezes out of every drop of blood from her cast and every ounce of Christmas cheer from the ending exclamation point. There’s also a hint of girl power throughout the film, mainly because I would describe the male characters as all muscle and no brain while the women manage to be both. While “Sacrifice Game” may not become a yearly holiday watch, you won’t be disappointed if it winds up under your Christmas tree.