Select Page

Exclusive Interview: Jenn Wexler and Sean Redlitz on Teens and Demons in “THE SACRIFICE GAME”

Monday, December 18, 2023 | Exclusives, Interviews


Director Jenn Wexler dives even deeper into horror tropes with her second feature film, THE SACRIFICE GAME. Wexler is a longtime producer for Larry Fessenden’s production company Glass Eye Pix, stepping into the director’s chair with 2018’s The Ranger. That film took on the classic cabin-in-the-woods subgenre with the clever additions of a public servant gone rogue and punk kids not listening to reason. Though that multi-genre mishmash might not seem like the most natural fit, Wexler’s fluency in all things horror (and her obvious affection for her characters) makes that crazy premise work splendidly.

Looking to nail a similar trick shot, Wexler is again bringing a load of classic genres into her film THE SACRIFICE GAME. Co-written with husband Sean Redlitz, this film features a girls’ boarding school, a creepy kid and a murderous gang. And it all takes place over Christmas. RUE MORGUE sat down with Wexler and Redlitz to talk about THE SACRIFICE GAME’S inception, casting a gaggle of teens and what makes a good killer family.

Where did the nugget of the idea that became THE SACRIFICE GAME come from? And how did you two bring your brains together to create this story?

Jenn Wexler: In 2013, I had just started working for Glass Eye Pix, and I was very inspired by Larry Fessenden and all the filmmakers Glass Eye works with. I was doing social media for the company at the time, but I was like, “Wow! If I ever get the opportunity to make a movie, what would I wanna make?” Outside of that work, I started working on this script. I wanted to combine some of my favorite subgenres. I came upon the idea of taking a home invasion movie but pairing it with a demon movie, and then setting it in a boarding school… I went to New Jersey public schools and had a very boring high school experience. When I was in high school, I thought if only I went to boarding school, my life would be filled with adventure and mystery – obviously. Because I didn’t have that, I romanticized it completely, and this is a good opportunity to get to emotionally spend time in that kind of space.

Sean Redlitz: You sat with the script for a while because it was an eight-character, big boarding school movie with all this going on, and it’s a lot to bite off your first film.

JW: Yeah. After a while, I started to learn how to make movies with this company. Making movies is hard. I need to take a minute and learn before I’m ready to move forward with this in any real way. So, I put aside making movies for six or seven years – producing. I directed The Ranger, and when The Ranger came out in 2018, I felt like I understood this now. And I am excited to dive back into THE SACRIFICE GAME. Then, I was bouncing ideas off of Sean – as you do when you live with a person. Sean came up with a suggestion that unlocked the movie completely.

SR: Originally the idea was what if they raise a demon, but it possesses the last person you think it would possess – the quiet girl. I like that idea, but we’ve seen some of that before. Typically, you know, demons possess girls, and they become something that they weren’t. I said, “Well, what if instead of possessing her, what if she just was the demon? What if they think they’re there, summoning the demon, but they’re there to do something else? And it’s the demon’s idea that brought them there. Jenn immediately gravitated to that idea, and it sparked all of these other ideas of things we hadn’t seen before. Things we thought were really cool. Now where are we gonna get a 14-year-old girl who could play that? I don’t know. But that wasn’t my problem at the time. [Laughs] We were just gonna write it!

JW: Sean just walked into the room and said, “Claire’s the demon.” Then, I asked do you wanna work on this with me? And here’s the scripts and dive into that.

Where did you find that 14-year-old girl? Did you have such a specific notion of her or did that get shaped through casting?

JW: Yeah, it was through casting. We did auditions with teen girls throughout Canada. Probably a month before we actually shot is when we found Georgia [Acken]. Just from her audition, I was like, oh, you are Clara. She just really understood the character so instinctively … She’s a demon, but she’s been in this boarding school for so long in this form that at some point she also became a teenage girl. And Georgia just totally understood that. When you start working with the person in rehearsals, you start nailing down how it is with all the actors. You start nailing down like the moments in the emotional arc. But, she just deeply understood the character … Through these auditions, we also met Madison [Baines], who plays Samantha. And for that, I just felt she was so vulnerable in her audition. I care about you and I want you to be okay,  She has these big eyes. The cast was already there, and it’s only gonna grow when we’re on set.

SR: Yeah. A few of the actors were attached to the project early or that we had in mind. Chloë [Levine] was the star of The Ranger. Rose was written with Chloe in mind.

That was a question I had.

SR: [Laughs] There you go. For the roles of Grant and Doug and Samantha and Clara, we had to go find these actors. We have been blessed with four more amazing actors who just came to us through the audition process, and every one of them understood the core essence of that character and elevated it so, so much. We were really lucky. I wasn’t crucial to casting, but Jen was nice enough to share the audition tapes with me. And my note on Georgia was “young Christina Ricci vibes.”

At a girl’s boarding school, there’s this baked-in, intense female energy. It’s an intense relationship that is kind of hard to understand from the outside.

JW: When writing the story and thinking about their relationship, I wanted it to feel like that early moment when you first have a friend crush on somebody. You wanna know more about them, but you don’t want to be the first person to show that you care. And then, while I didn’t go to boarding school, I did go to camp… sleepaway camp. [Laughs] I was around a lot of girls at sleepaway camp, and I’ve had awful experiences at sleepaway camp, the entire bunk turning against me because I wrote an angry note to them. I was 12! And then, I was surprised when they excommunicated me from the bunk. So I had a lot of that kind of experience, and that kind of energy for sure.

The intensity and the isolation of camp living and boarding school speak the same language essentially.

SR: Obviously, isolation is the key to how it all comes together, but also, the world feels so scary and far away. We see Vietnam through television. We see headlines and newspapers about these Manson murders happening. So, the outside world is not a friendly place for these characters, but then, that fear comes to them, and they have to face it.

The Manson-esque group of roving murderers in THE SACRIFICE GAME is not a monolith. They all have different motivations and personalities.

JW; Thank you for saying that because that was one of the main goals. When you first meet them, they’re like a unit. They’re throwing the girl back and forth to each other, and they’re very much like this unified gang. Then, as we get to know them in each scene, we start to discover their personalities, and we start to discover the toxic relationships going on, what’s driving each of them, and why they’re all there. It ties into a bigger theme of family, loneliness and connection. It is something that the Clara-Samantha storyline is about, but with the gang, they’re a toxic family. Part of the fun is in the first half of the movie. They’re in charge, and they’re the bad guys, and they hold the power. In the second half of the movie, you get to understand the nuance of each of these characters. It is fun to play with that.

What scares you?

JW: Uh, I feel like everything scares me. I have a lot of anxiety about a lot of things. I think a lot of horror directors share that. The only way to explore them as an artist and to deal with your anxieties is by exploring them and funneling them into a piece of art. I’ve heard other directors talk about that, too. But I’m scared of everything.

It’s like very expensive therapy.

JW: No, truly, it is. Depending on what part of the process you’re on. If you’re just developing the idea in your notepad, it’s very cheap.

SR: That slow-motion, gradually turning into the fast-motion collapse of society is kind of scaring me right now.

That’s fair.

SR: Whether it’s our politics, our social media [or] our environment. We throw a little bit of that into Jude’s mouth in the film, talking about how quickly certain forces in the world are to sacrifice other forces for their own ends. It’s not something I like, but it’s something I like writing about.

What is the one takeaway you want audiences to get from THE SACRIFICE GAME?

JW: I hope it makes somebody feel less lonely.

SR: I don’t have a better answer than that, but I will say that we love the Christmas horror canon, and we just wanted to put something out there that was worthy of sitting on the shelf alongside all of your favorite Christmas horror movies. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy it and maybe revisit it from Christmas to Christmas.

Did you have the cast watch any Christmas horror films for research?

JW: I think, Black Christmas. I was reminded at a Q&A last night by Olivia (Scott Welch) that one of the movies I gave her was … Don’t Deliver Us From Evil. And it’s not a holiday movie, but [I gave her] Boarding School Girls Gone Wild.


Deirdre is a Chicago-based film critic and life-long horror fan. In addition to writing for RUE MORGUE, she also contributes to C-Ville Weekly,, and belongs to the Chicago Film Critics Association. She's got two black cats and wrote her Master's thesis on George Romero.