Sacrifice is a good reminder of how important performances are in horror movies. Too often, emphasis is placed on creating “cool” blood and gore shots, or crafting jump scares. Those components can be essential, too, yet without strong acting, it's impossible to care about anything else. Sacrifice has very good performances, and that allows it to work its twisted magic on viewers.

After the death of his mother, Isaac (Ludovic Hughes) and his pregnant wife Emma (Sophie Stevens) travel to a remote Norwegian island so they can make arrangements to sell the ancestral home. At first, they are greeted with hostility by the townspeople, who abruptly change their tune upon learning who his mother was. Isaac doesn't understand, but the sheriff, Renate (Barbara Crampton), certainly does. She fills him in on some important and ghastly family history, the specifics of which I will not divulge.

True horror begins after Renate convinces Isaac to take part in a local custom involving a baptism-like ritual. He begins acting strangely after that, to the point where Emma feels she needs to escape him for the sake of their unborn child. His behavior may have something to do with a local cult that worships a supposed deity dwelling in the sea around the island.

I'm intentionally leaving out significant plot points because Sacrifice doles answers out very strategically. To know too much going in would eliminate a lot of the suspense. What can safely be said is that the story delves into the theme of families – specifically, whether it's possible to break from the legacies that are handed down by them. The movie quickly establishes that Isaac probably shouldn't be too concerned with carrying on his own family legacy, then builds the horror from having him ignore all the warning signs.

Such an ambitious story requires actors who really know how to bring the material alive. Sacrifice has them. Ludovic does an authentic job charting Isaac's transition from basically nice guy to hostile, single-minded jerk. The actor makes sure we recognize that his character has had his conscience clouded. Stevens, meanwhile, elevates the slightly cliched role of the “scared wife.” Rather than being a damsel in distress, she palpably conveys Emma's growing fear, especially for the unborn baby. As it becomes clearer what's going on at the island, Stevens raises the game on showing the terror of having to confront a grim realization.

The best performance comes from Barbara Crampton. Aside from speaking with a credible Norwegian accent, she imbues Renate with a sense of mystery that greatly benefits the movie. We really aren't sure if the character is benign or malicious. She presents as friendly, yet there's something off-kilter about her affect. And after performing the ceremony with Isaac, her actions suggest a deeper motivation. Crampton keeps us guessing as to whether Renate is trying to protect Isaac in some strange way or steer him in a bad direction. The answer becomes clear at the end, leading to a pitch-perfect final line of dialogue that Crampton delivers beautifully.

Sacrifice has a couple of the rough edges normally found in lower-budgeted fare. Nothing that detracts from the enjoyment of the story, though. Together with their ace cast, directors Andy Collier and Toor Mian have made an atmospheric horror movie that grows increasingly eerie before delivering a knockout finale.

out of four

Sacrifice is unrated, but contains adult language, some sexuality/nudity, and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.