The Sacrifice Game Review

Sometimes it’s harder to figure out when a movie actually released than it should be.

When I’m looking at a movie and trying to figure out what year it came out in, especially as of these last few years–I do a lot of Best Of lists and keep tally of where the flicks I watch belong–too often the “release date” can be frustratingly inaccurate. Especially for streaming movies.

The reason being that if a movie debuted at a film festival somewhere, no matter how big or small, that festival date will often be considered as the film’s release date. Even though it could be a few months or more before the picture gets a mass release to the public. So a movie that releases on streaming in, say, February, might have a listed release date of the previous year because it showed at a festival of which no one has ever heard back in the previous April, well before it was ever picked up for release.

That’s silly! When that happens, I tend to go by the mass release date, personally. So if such a movie mass releases this year, I’d consider that a 2024 outing, not a 2023 one based on a possible film festival date. Because very few but a select group of people had any chance whatsoever to see it in 2023.

Then there’s just my own personal nonsense, where my “year” tends to run mid-December to mid-December. Having my site to maintain, I do my Best Of Lists before December ends. So anything mass released in the back half of the last month of the year, I tend to count towards the next year. Case in point: my 2024 New Release Movies list has one entry so far: The Iron Claw. Because it came out after my Best Of’s were complete, even though it was still 2023.

This is all relevant to The Sacrifice Game, a feature mass released on Shudder in December 2023 after a film festival “official” release date of July 2023. But I could tell by watching it that it had to be newer than July 2023 because it’s a Christmas movie! So that led me to trying to seek out when it hit Shudder.

And after quite a bit of searching, I found the Shudder release date! December 8th.

So after all that, it STILL counts as a 2023 movie for me. Nuts. I guess Iron Claw remains alone on my Best Of 2024 list so far.

Actually, the timing of The Sacrifice Game is great, because this movie is essentially “What If The Holdovers Was A Horror Movie?”. A Pair of girls, their teacher, and another school employee are left behind at a boarding school over the Christmas break–one of the girls holding over because of a dynamic with a new step-parent, even–but instead of heartfelt relationship building, we get the school being invaded by a quartet of ritualistic killers who have been loose in the area.

The girls, Samantha and Clara, and their teacher, Rose, are held hostage over Christmas dinner by the killers, and it turns out that they are more than just psychopaths killing indiscriminately. And they are at the school for a reason.

You see, the killers have arrived because one of them used to be a student at the school, and before she was kicked out, she found an ancient text in the basement explaining how to summon an ages-old demon. One that would grant the wishes of whomever summoned it forth to the mortal realm.

So it’s up to Samantha, Clara, and Rose to save themselves and also find out if there truly is a demon that can be summoned… or if their assailants are simply delusional.

TWO UPS AND TWO DOWNS

+Georgia Acken gets the “introducing” credit here and plays Clara, the younger of the two girls left behind at the boarding school. And she is an absolute delight as the film goes on. She starts off in the shadow of Samantha, who seems to be the main character, but as the film moves into the second and third acts, her importance grows and grows. Her whole performance is a revelation, and I’m hoping to see a lot more of her in the Horror genre going forward. She’s got some real acting chops, and she absolutely got the assignment on this one.

+The movie takes some twists and turns that you may or may not see coming, but I don’t want to get too much into spoilers here other than to say it’s what the flick DOES with the plot twists that really earns it an Up. There are a few movements I saw coming or that the film telegraphs, but I simply did not see the payoffs being as fantastic as they end up being.

While the movie is making its bread on tension, gore, and horror, the turns allow it to have some moments of real drama or humor. This is hardly a comedy, even partially, by any stretch of the imagination, but it did kick some chuckles out of me on a few lines. I appreciate the effort to round out the tone a bit by being multi-faceted!

-The movie plays what feels like a bit fast-and-loose with the rules it seems to establish once we get to the demonic aspect of things. We get an explanation for why and how things work, but then there just seem to be some weird-ass work-arounds regardless. It’s not much, but it did feel a bit like the movie set up its own rules just to ignore them a bit.

-Mena Massoud is menacing as the leader of the Christmastime Killers group, Jude. His performance isn’t what is a Down here, though. What is is the fact that his character goes from fearful and striking to kind of an ineffectual buffoon after the villains pull off the ritual to summon the demon. After portraying a seriously terrifying threat for the first 50 minutes or so, he is reduced to believing himself to be the demon, carving symbol into his chest, and running around the basement of the school yelling that he is the vessel. It’s not a great turn for the character.

OVERALL

The Sacrifice Game doesn’t have the best or most fitting title–I mean, I guess the “sacrifice” part works, but nothing here is portrayed as a “game”–but Acken’s brilliant work as Clara and a genuinely interesting and gripping horror story make up for a bad name.

★★★★

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