Ready or Not is a dark, emotional, effective horror-comedy. It’s a metaphor for family baggage, but it’s also the most fun I’ve had in a movie in a long time.
Ready or Not, directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, is a blast from start to finish. It has a simple premise that allows for hijinks and emotional release and a surprising amount of character development. Ready or Not feels as though Tucker and Dale starred in The Most Dangerous Game or You’re Next – it’s laugh-out-loud funny, but with a great deal of heart.
As I said, the premise of this black comedy is straightforward: whenever the insanely wealthy Le Domas family has a wedding, they initiate a new member by playing a game. You see, they made their money by manufacturing games. This is just one of those quirky rich family traditions, you know? However, this night is a bit different. The family never knows what game will be played until the moment they’re supposed to start because they draw a random card. This time, it’s Hide and Seek, the one card that means the Le Domas family is going to hunt down the new bride Grace (Samara Weaving) and sacrifice her. This has only happened once in the last 30 years. It’s not usual, and no one really expected it would happen. Unfortunately, it’s all too real. The family is absolutely sure that, if they don’t go through with it, they’ll all die horribly. So Grace must survive the night or die on the altar of the Le Domas family’s sins.
What ensues is a murderous comedy of errors, with accidental weapons’ discharges and wholesale carnage. These are all very white-collar people – no one has really handled weapons before, so there are many hilariously bloody mishaps. What works best is that Ready Or Not never fully devolves into slapstick. It’s funny but believable.
At first, I was sure that the conceit would break down a bit when you start to think about it. Why would anyone ever bring someone into the family? But, there’s a possibility that she won’t draw “the card.” Maybe it’s worth it? The family, aside from the evil Aunt Helene, seem truly broken up about it, which I didn’t predict. Moreover, there’s a lot of subtlety to Grace and Alex’s backstory that indicate marriage was the only option for her.
Not a single cast member phones it in, which wholly sells the film’s believability. Samara Weaving (from The Babysitter, an entirely overlooked horror comedy) is phenomenal, letting loose a deluge of raw, palpable emotionality. She’s quite possibly given a new meaning to the title of Scream Queen. She evokes the strength of Hereditary‘s Toni Collette or Midsommar‘s Florence Pugh. She goes from blushing bride to final girl, selling that transition with finesse. Some final girls too quickly don the badassery, but Grace must actually go through the emotional journey it takes to get there. In an excellent badass moment, Grace arms herself, but this traditionally fist-pumping moment is actually undercut and then overshadowed by more emotionally resonant character scenes.
Mark O’Brien (who plays Alex, Grace’s husband) is one to watch (I’ve been talking about him for a while in my City on a Hill reviews). He’s a subtle and strong supporting actor to Weaving’s guttural power as a lead. This is a guy who’s going to win an Oscar someday – he’s on the rise in a big way. Adam Brody, Grace’s new brother-in-law, is wonderfully torn about the whole situation, playing a deeply wrought character who struggles to find his place in this messed-up family. I could go on, but not a single actor phones it in – everyone does an amazing job.
Ultimately, Ready or Not demonstrates a pitch-perfect tonal balance of comedy and horror-thriller. Samara Weaving does an exceptional job that critics should talk about for a long while. What’s more: this is a deeply funny film that doesn’t sacrifice character or emotion for laughs. The laughs give great catharsis in ways we never expect and always appreciate. This is an excellent film.