Gleefully schlocky and willing to wear its social commentary on its sleeve, Ready or Not makes for a wonderfully bonkers and exhilarating thrill ride.
Ready or Not is a darkly satirical horror-thriller where wealthy people hunt lower-income individuals as part of a sick and twisted game, only for a blonde heroine to turn the tables on them. If this sounds familiar, it's because it's also the synopsis for Blumhouse's The Hunt, which was cancelled in the wake of the recent mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, and criticized for its political subtext. It's all a tad ironic, considering Fox Searchlight's newest offering is as violent and political as The Hunt allegedly is, in addition to being just wickedly entertaining. Gleefully schlocky and willing to wear its social commentary on its sleeve, Ready or Not makes for a wonderfully bonkers and exhilarating thrill ride.
Samara Weaving stars in Ready or Not as Grace, a young bride who's eager to marry her groom, Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien), and finally have a family of her own, even if they're as ultra-rich, snooty, and otherwise messed up as the Le Domas clan. On their wedding night, Grace's new in-laws call upon her to participate in a randomly-selected game, as part of a tradition going back to their great-grandfather and a pact he made, allowing him and his descendants to build their empire based on gaming (board games, sports teams, etc.). But when Grace is assigned to play Hide-and-seek, she finds herself being hunted by the rest of the Le Domas tribe (except for Alex), who are determined to kill her before dawn. Can Grace make it through the night alive?
The Ready or Not script by Guy Busick (Stan Against Evil) and R. Christopher Murphy (Minutes Past Midnight) has shades of everything from The Purge to Clue, Evil Dead, and You're Next (as well as the films that inspired them), yet never comes across as being derivative. Instead, it remixes these influences in a refreshingly clever and frequently subversive fashion, and always seems to know when to punctuate its tightly-paced plot with a bit of ridiculously shocking gore or equally pitch-dark comedy. Its story about a blue-blooded family that's rotten to the core, and built on a foundation of blood and cruelty, may be about as subtle as its dialogue ("Rich people are messed up", or some variation on this theme, is a common refrain), but it's completely in keeping with its general tone.
Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Devil's Due, segments from V/H/S and Southbound) are similarly, and clearly, well-versed in the horror genre's traditions and use this to their advantage, when it comes to upending expectations. This extends to their treatment of Grace, who gets put through the wringer in ways reminiscent of the great survivors in the aforementioned films, as well as something more recent like Crawl. Weaving gives it her all in the role and delivers a terrific performance charged with delirious rage, fear, and gradually detached bemusement at the bizarre situation she finds herself in. The entire Ready or Not ensemble appears to be having a blast at that, be it Adam Brody as family screwup Daniel, Melanie Scrofano as coke-snorting daughter Emilie, and especially Nicky Guadagni as the leering vulture that is Aunt Helene.
Perhaps the only thing more decadent than the Le Domas dynasty is their home, which is brought to life as a sumptuously gothic, candle-lit mansion (full of hidden passageways and dumbwaiters) by The Handmaid's Tale production designer Andrew M. Stearn. It not only makes for a striking set piece, but also allows for some sharp visual comedy in the moments where characters break the setting's mood by consulting their iPhones for vital information (like how to operate their antiquated weapons), or use any sort of technology that clashes vividly with the refined backdrop. Again, Ready or Not's skewering of American aristocracy by way of bloody horror-comedy is about as on the nose as it gets, but it has a whole lot of fun along the way.
Its extremely bleak sense of humor, comically over the top violence, and unapologetically trashy vibe makes Ready or Not difficult to recommend to viewers across the board. But then again, for the very same reasons, it ought to be a delight for hardcore horror buffs, gorehounds, or anyone who's in the mood to watch some nasty, ultra-wealthy upper class types get handed their just desserts in a slick, ninety-minute package. Don't let the film's late August dumping ground release date fool you, either; for those who are intrigued and willing, this game is absolutely worth playing.
Ready or Not is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 95 minutes long and is rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughout, and some drug use.
- Ready or Not (2019) release date: Aug 21, 2019