★★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Samara Weaving has a powerful star-making turn in this riotously enjoyable bloodbath of a film. Ready or Not is full of memorable characters, deft humor, and an intense nail-chewing plot.
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
A star is born! If she hasn’t been already identified as one of the leading ladies in the horror genre, Samara Weaving just planted her flag to lay claim to being one of the great genre stars. We’ll have see how long she stays in the horror room. But as of now, with Mayhem, The Babysitter, and now Ready or Not in her portfolio, she may be the Jamie Lee Curtis of this era, should she decide to continue making horror movies. I really enjoy her previous films where she showed a natural charisma and obvious beauty. In this feature, she ups her acting game, bringing the full arsenal of acting skills to the table. From romantic giddiness to revulsion through shock, frustration, and anger, she brings it all convincingly in this movie.
This is the story of Grace (Weaving), who at the beginning of the film is marrying Alex (Mark O’Brien), a member of the eccentric and hugely wealthy Le Domas family, their legacy built upon creating board games. This would be as if Milton Bradley was a family business. (or for more modern gamers, Fantasy Flight). Grace, being a foster kid growing up, is longing for a family to call her own, and the large and quirky Le Domas family each has a different take on the new bride to be.
Andie McDowell and Henry Czerny play Tony and Becky Le Domas, the parents of the Groom and are eager to get the wayward Alex back into the family fold. Alex’s cynical and protective brother Daniel (Adam Brody), his determined and lovely wife Charity (Elyse Levesque), their scatter-brained and coked-up sister Emelie (Melanie Scrofano), Emelie’s oblivious bro-ish husband Fitch (Kristian Bruun), and the spooky and stern Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni) make up the full complement of Le Domas family members.
One of the family traditions for the Le Domas family is that when a new member is indoctrinated into the family has to play a game on the wedding night. The legend has it that the family fortune was formed through a Faustian contract with a mysterious benefactor named Le Bail. And Le Bail demanded that as the family grows, a random game is played as determined by way of a card trick. The other members of the family complain about the games they had to play when they joined, but there is ONE game that demands a contractual sacrifice, and that is Hide and Seek. Of course, Grace draws Hide and Seek, clearly not aware that this is going to be a deadly game. She thinks the whole ordeal is a bit eccentric and plays along for laughs.
The excellent writing and acting here allow for a very nuanced reaction of the card reveal from the family. This is not an easy thing for them; a situation that though they were aware might happen, were clearly not prepared for the consequences. However, they are compelled to act. Tradition states, if they do not catch the bride by dawn, the family members will die a horrible death. So, the hunt is on! The palatial mansion is full of servants corridors, dumb waiters, massive wardrobes, and a multitude of interesting rooms, so it will make for a not-so-simple game of cat and mouse.
Alex, distraught that his lovely and beloved bride is going to get executed, decides to go against the family and intends to seek out Grace, and to get away as fast as they can, believing the family legend as pure bunkum. That is part of the power of the movie… who believes that this absurd family story could possibly be true? But they have had to do this before, and they will do it again to protect family and fortune.
What ensues is a hugely entertaining and fast-moving story. Once Alex finds and explains it to Grace, she experiences the aforementioned emotional rollercoaster and then hitches her bridal dress up, to get herself out of this predicament. Unlike other movies of the “people hunting people” trope, the Le Domas family are NOT skilled assassins. In fact, they are pretty bumbling, and often more dangerous to each other than they are to Grace. So the odds aren’t as lopsided as you might expect, but still, Grace is badly outnumbered.
The conclusion to the movie is as satisfying as anything that I’ve seen in the past ten years. How you think the conclusion will be revealed changes several times during the final sequence, and it is hugely entertaining. This movie compares very favorably to Cabin in the Woods and You’re Next, in flavor and execution. It also reminds me of the cultish comedy Satanic Panic, released earlier this year. Ready or Not is already comparisons are being suggested to the upcoming Betty Gilpin movie Hunt, which now with Ready or Not as a measuring stick, has a lot to live up to.
There has been some political blowback in this age of mass shootings to movies about people hunting people. I think this movie has enough of a fantastic edge and does not try and make any political statement one way or another. This is not one group hating other groups, it’s about a family matter that gets totally out of hand. Horror fans of all political persuasions are likely to enjoy this. If you dislike violence, however, you will dislike this film, as it has some nasty violence to it, and not an insignificant amount of gore.
Even though this is Weaving’s star vehicle, every single supporting cast member, right down to the Stevens, the butler (John Ralston), brings something special and memorable to this movie. Most of the characters are villainous, but they are layered, interesting, and fun. So much more than your average horror movie. There aren’t any cardboard characters here, and some of them really shine. Nikki Guadagni’s Aunt Helene steals every scene she is, her scowl boring into Grace, with a resentment that reveals itself later in the movie.
The exposition in the movie is handled very gracefully, with most of it served up by Henry Czerny in a telling of the Le Domaas family history when the game reveal happens. It’s tidy and occurs naturally. Hat’s off to the screenwriting team of Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy, as the script unfolds with just the right amount of pace and rest, and for their assignment of interesting traits to all the cast.
The art direction is fabulous too. The big mansion is a character in itself, much like a ghost story / haunted house film. The dappled candlelight level of the old structure is terrific. Also, they take great advantage of that fabulous bridal dress that Grace has. As the movie continues on, her dress goes from pristine and pure, to grody and torn. There’s great symbolism in that, and Weaving wears it like armor. There are also some fabulous inclusions of different types of music, but most enjoyable is the old-timey “hide and go seek” song that plays on the record player.
This is not a perfect film, as the film has a bit of predictability to it and the plot is fundamentally pretty simple even if well constructed. It is perfect for what it wants to be, though, and there are no real flaws with the execution. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are the directing duo that also brought the anthology movies V/H/S and Southbound. This outing through the Fox Searchlight production house is a big step up, and I hope this leads to more movies of this quality from them in the future.
The trailer may seem like it reveals a lot of the plot, is essentially all from the first act in the movie, so if you want to get a sense of the flavor of the film, it’s a good watch. I was compelled to see this film from the terrific trailer, but it does spoil some of the better comedic moments though, so if you want to avoid that, just go see the movie.
Ready or Not is rated R for profanity and Gore, and is in wide release in the US at this moment. As of August 24, 2019, this is my horror movie to beat for the best horror film of the year. Full stop. Let’s see how It Chapter 2 delivers.