[Fantasia Interview] Jenn Wexler for THE SACRIFICE GAME

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, THE SACRIFICE GAME being covered here wouldn’t exist.

It’s bad enough that boarding school students Samantha and Clara can’t go home for the holidays, but things take a deadly turn in THE SACRIFICE GAME when a gang of cult killers arrives on their doorstep—just in time for Christmas.

For the world premiere of THE SACRIFICE GAME at Fantasia, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Sarah Musnicky chatted with director/co-writer Jenn Wexler. During the course of their conversation, they discussed everything from what the initial inspiration behind the film was, why shooting in the spring made more sense for a Christmas film, and finding the perfect location for Blackvale.

To start things off, what was the initial inspiration? Because there seem to be a couple of different things that have come together to create THE SACRIFICE GAME.

Jenn Wexler: I’ve been a fan of horror movies since I was a teenager. As a 13-year-old, I moved schools and didn’t have any friends, and it was a very traumatizing experience in my life. It was the time that I discovered horror movies too. So horror movies became my friend at that time. Fast forward to 2013, I was trying to put together what feature I wanted to make as my first feature, and I was pulling all my favorite things together. I didn’t go to boarding school, but I went to a New Jersey public school, and it was always very magical to me and mysterious and romantic. So that was a setting I was really interested in.

I read Helter Skelter when I was a teenager so, the Manson family, I was always very fascinated by that and by that time period. And Christmas! I love Christmas horror. Black Christmas is a favorite. So, it was pulling all of those influences together and just seeing what would emerge from my subconscious.

Yeah, and since that particular period is so turbulent, it makes the best setting for a teenage coming-of-age story. Since you mentioned the boarding school, what was it like trying to find that location? While watching, I looked at it and was like, this was probably filmed in Canada because they have the cool architecture to build out boarding school facades from.

Jenn Wexler: Yeah, and you’re correct. We shot outside Montreal. Heather Buckley is one of the producers of the movie. She was the person I shared the script with, and she introduced me to producers in Quebec, Philip Kalin-Hajdu and Albert I Melamed. They read the script and they were like, we can make this here. We want to show you around. We want to introduce you to our Quebec filmmaking teams [and] to the Quebec filmmaking industry.

Oka Abbey was one of the first places they showed me and I fell in love with it. I was like, This is it. This is our Blackvale School for Girls, and it was very magical to shoot there. It was probably built in the 1800s. It’s no longer [the case now], but it was a monastery and it felt a little haunted. Some people said they experienced things while we were shooting. I didn’t because I was so focused on the movie that I wasn’t allowing the ghostly stuff into my consciousness, but other people had experiences. It was a magical place

[Fantasia Interview] Jenn Wexler for THE SACRIFICE GAME

It’s funny when you’re in the zone how easily it is to ignore the ghostly stuff that happens around you. When it came time to cast everything particularly our quartet of Murderinos, what was it like casting for that? Each of the four people has such a distinctive personality and presence that they bring onto the screen.

Jenn Wexler: I didn’t want anyone to feel too similar to each other. I wanted them each to have their own vibe. So Mena Massoud, who we all know as Aladdin, I was like, oh, it’d be the coolest thing to see him as a villain because he’s so charming. I just wanted to see what that would look like if you twist that charm, and he was totally down to go there. It was awesome.

With Olivia Scott Welch, I had seen Fear Street and loved her in that, and I’d also seen “Panic,” which was a TV series on Amazon that she starred in. I also thought with her, it would be really cool to see her in this villainous role. The thing with Maisie is she starts off as the cool girl, but then you start to discover what’s really driving her and the other side of it. So, Olivia was down to explore all those nuances and nailed it.

With Laurent Pitre, who plays Doug, and Derek Johns, who plays Grant; For the Doug character, I had Reservoir Dogs on my mind and Steve Buscemi-type of characters that he plays. I watched auditions with various people, and I saw Laurent’s audition, he’s made manifest from my subconscious. When I’m casting, I have these moments where it’s just a guttural like, this is the person. There’s no question. This is the person. So, I thought that for Laurent.

For Derek, when we were writing the script, we had Vincent D’Onofrio and Full Metal Jacket on our minds, and then getting to meet Derek, who understood those vibes, but then also, has all these complex layers of humanity that we reveal later, and he was down to dive into that as well.

For Clara, were you specifically looking for someone that could do movement and bodywork?

Jenn Wexler: I was hopeful that the person we would cast would be able to do that. But it wasn’t forefront for me. Again, it was a guttural thing in seeing Georgia Acken’s audition. It’s her first feature. We’re honored that we get to introduce her to people because she’s so talented and incredible. And then, doing the dance, there was a choreographer, who choreographed it and showed it to her. She picked it up right away because she’s done a lot of theater, musical theater, so she has experience with dance. It was a very magical moment when she was doing the dance for the entire crew got to see the dance. And it was very wonderful. I  also want to call out Madison Baines, who played Samantha, and she was amazing and willing to get vulnerable and everything

Since the film takes place during Christmas, and there was snow heavily featured, what difficulties did you have while shooting?

Jenn Wexler: In terms of the snow, we shot in the spring. When the financing came together, we hit March and we found out we were able to make it, we were like like, okay, let’s make it. We’re not going to wait another year. Let’s dive in. Actually, at the end of the day, it was much more enjoyable shooting in the spring than shooting in the middle of Montreal winter, just in terms of our moods. We weren’t freezing cold and that takes a toll when you’re making a movie in actual snow. We got to work with Blood Brothers FX, who brought in practical snow. Also, our VFX team, REAL by FAKE, created incredible snow during post. I wanted the movie to have this kind of dreamlike fantasy quality to it and so, ultimately, it became the right decision for the movie to approach it that way.

We’ve been talking about the strike with other directors so I wanted to close out the interview by asking what are your thoughts on the strike. And if there’s anything that you could say to the actors or writers on the strike, what would you say?

Jenn Wexler: I’m 1,000% supportive of both of the strikes and fuck yeah, keep doing it. Right now, the actors and writers are our last defense against AI taking over and decimating our industry. There are so few opportunities for collective action and for people to come together and directly stand in front of the billionaires that control our world. I think this is a really good moment for everybody to be doing that.

THE SACRIFICE GAME had its world premiere at the 2023 Fantasia International Film Festival. To learn more about the film, check out our review here.

Sarah Musnicky
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