Merry Christmas, friends! It’s that wonderful season of warmth, light and friendship. The tree is trimmed, the snow is falling softly on the ground, and the world is filled with joy and love. And instead of going home this year, we’re spending the holidays at an empty boarding school. And doing demonic sacrifices. 

Set in the 1970s, The Sacrifice Game opens as the students of a private boarding school are heading home for the holidays. With the exception of Samantha (Madison Baines), whose step-father tells her at the last minute that they are unable to have her return home this year, and Clara (Georgia Acken), the quiet girl of the class who just doesn’t seem to have anywhere to go. Left with their teacher, Rose (Chloe Levine), the group begins to quietly settle in for an odd and uncomfortable Christmas.

Just before dinner, there is a knock at the door. Rose answers and is confronted by four strangers. One of them is injured and in need of medical assistance. Though Rose senses that things aren’t quite right, they manage to talk their way past her and into the school. Before long, the gloves are off and the group is holding the school hostage. Their motives are unclear, but they are vicious. They toy with their hostages and play games before finally revealing their true intentions. This isn’t an ordinary group of murderous psychopaths, friends. They are something more. They have been conducting a series of ritualistic killings and their final sacrifice must be made tonight, within the walls of this school.

Jenn Wexler’s latest is a lot of fun. The script, co-written by Sean Redlitz, is well-paced and executed. When the film opens, we spend some time getting to know our characters. Samantha and Clara are both loners at the boarding school. Samantha is the new girl and Clara has trouble connecting with any of the other students. They really haven’t had a chance to interact much until now, but as the only two girls left at the empty school, they find themselves thrown together and awkwardly getting to know one another. We see the beginnings of a friendship that will become the root of the story once things finally get crazy.

And damn, do they get crazy! Let’s talk about our roving gang of psychos. From the moment they arrive, the audience is on edge, because they carry that feeling of unhinged unpredictability. Especially Jude, played by Mena Massoud. He seems to be channeling Alan Arkin in Wait Until Dark with his demeanor, and that’s before things get really nuts. There’s an intensity to his performance that really helps to up the tension.

It would have been easy for this to delve into a standard home invasion scenario, but Wexler and Redlitz deftly avoid that pitfall. The film is a great blend of real-world dangers and the supernatural. This group of intruders is deadly and will go to any lengths to complete their sacrifice, but what happens when they actually reach their goal? Wexler isn’t going to shy away from the demonic aspect of this story, and when it finally emerges, it’s pretty fantastic. By embracing both of these story elements, the film has a little more depth and the stakes are much higher. And more interesting. It’s not just about a group of innocent people being terrorized, because we still have places to go afterwards.

This is one of those films that keeps you guessing all the way through and really delivers. The plot is great, the actors are delivering all the way, and there is plenty of humor sprinkled in. Holiday horror has become one of my favorite subgenres over the past couple of years, and I’m excited to add The Sacrifice Game to my list of annual viewings. It’s a lot of fun and delivers in every way.

Movie Score: 5/5