Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest review – The Sacrifice Game

FrightFest review – The Sacrifice Game

It’s Christmas, 1971 – and a quartet of scuzzies somewhere between the Manson Gang and Krug and Company are conducting a campaign of ‘Merry Christmas’ home invasions, which leave cosy-sweatered nice people dead (and, as it happens, with patches of skin sawn off).  Meanwhile, at Blackvale Academy – a high-end girls’ school built near the site of a town once burned down during a witch panic – kindly teacher Rose (Chloe Levine) has the gig of looking after left-behinds Samantha (Madison Baines), stranded by her stepfather, and Clara (Georgia Acken), who it seems everyone forgets.  Samantha notices that Clara is scarifying herself – which might have some connection with all this occult palaver.  On Christmas Eve, with turkey in the oven and gifts under the tree, the home invaders show up at Blackvale, which is their ultimate destination as charismatic sadist Jude (Mena Massoud), Vietvet hulk Grant (Derek Johns) and tagalong Doug (Laurent Pitre) have been brought here by alumna Maisie (Olivia Scott Welch – of Fear Street and The Blue Rose), who once made a discovery in the library which has set this gang on a dark path.

Director Jenn Wexler, who co-wrote with Sean Redlitz, settles in for what might seem to be a familiar tale (cf: The Desperate Hours and every other home invasion film since) as cruel folk with various grudges against straight society torment, abuse and kill innocents.  But, as usual, worms start turning soon – with a character who’s either the least or the most expected to make trouble playing psychological games which cause rifts in both factions, and a lot of just desserts being dished out before dawn (and the inevitable Christmas novelty song over the end credits).  As these things go, it’s not particularly excessive – though someone gets their face shoved into a plate of mashed potato at a last supper, and the performative cruelty wears thin before the turnaround changes the set-up.  Performances can’t really be subtle under the circumstances – only Baines gets to underplay – but there’s standout work from Massoud (fled from that Aladdin remake), Acken and Johns.  It has a bright, sparkly, tinselly feel – with appropriate shadows for the haunted basement – which is refreshing in an era of underlit murk as the default for horror.


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