Ready Or Not Review: Hide And Seek With The In-Laws From Hell
The summer of 2019 has already given us numerous great horror movies, but after alligators, cults, dolls, stories, and sharks, the best is yet to come. If you take the wit and the hilarious ensemble of Clue, the sadistic cat and mouse satire of The Most Dangerous Game, and mix them with the knack for subverting expectations with fun and blood from You’re Next, you get Ready Or Not, one hell of a wickedly fun movie and the best horror-comedy of the year so far.
Relationships are difficult, especially if they are with someone from a different economic background. You have different expectations and experiences, and it sometimes it can seem like you’re speaking different languages.
On Grace’s (star-in-the-making Samara Weaving) wedding day, her husband-to-be, Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), keeps apologizing for inflicting his affluent and lousy family on her, as they don’t take well to new people. While most members of Grace’s new family are skeptical of her short courtship, Alex’s sardonic brother Daniel (Adam Brody) and seemingly approachable mother Becky (Andie MacDowell) give Grace room to believe she can be accepted into the family’s board game business empire–or “dominion,” as Alex half-jokingly corrects her.
Having grown up as a foster kid, Grace’s longing for a family makes her acquiescent enough to go along with the strange tradition of playing a game on wedding nights. You see, the Le Domas clan went from printing playing cards to producing board games and now owning sports franchises, all due to a strange encounter between an old ancestor and a mysterious traveling salesman who sold him a “magic” card box that gave the family their unholy amount of wealth generations ago. When Grace pulls out a card marked “Hide and Seek,” the family gives her 100 seconds before they pick up a variety of 18th century weapons and spend the rest of the night hunting Grace, with the goal of performing a nefarious ritual they’ve carried out for decades.
From there the movie descends down a rabbit hole of fast and witty dialogue, a great ensemble cast, and a plot that keeps getting crazier and bloodier. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett deliver an impressive sophomore feature after their Rosemary’s Baby-inspired Devil’s Run, and great segments in both V/H/S and Southbound. They still wear their inspirations on their sleeves. The film’s use of three-point lighting is eerily Kubrickian, and the use of creepy cult-y ritual masks and ceremonial robes during a flashback scene set in the ’80s is a clear nod to Eyes Wide Shut.
Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin also manage to make the most out of their one setting, using every nook and cranny of the family’s huge mansion location to make a series of mini set-pieces and gags that keep the action fresh and creative. The focus of the movie isn’t necessarily on gore, but the violence stays intense throughout, aided by a punchy soundtrack (including the best use of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture in years) and great cinematography that really accentuates red tones and will have you thinking twice about wearing white during game night.
The script by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy does a great job of subverting expectations and keeping the audience guessing if the family’s occult history is real or not, and how exactly Grace can get out of this hell. That said, it does little to develop the Le Domas family beyond the broadest of descriptions, and it fails to meaningfully follow up on certain things set up early in the film.
Luckily, the performances are so good, it is easy to forgive these minor issues. You see, despite being wealthy and ruthless people, the Le Domas are also sometimes comically incompetent, constantly screwing up their kills and arguing over the rules of the game. They’re more akin the cast of Clue than the killers in The Strangers. Recent additions to the family, Charity (Elyse Levesque) and Fitch (Orphan Black’s fantastic Kristian Bruun), are hilarious. Because this is the first time both are witnessing this particular game night, and they’re not accustomed to the traditions (Fitch watches a tutorial on shooting a crossbow on YouTube). Adam Brody’s role as the conflicted Daniel gets some of the best moments in the movie. Though he says he wants to help Grace and Alex, he isn’t really about to take any initiative or move a finger. The banter between the family members will have you in stitches even if the performances and kills make you jump out of your seat.
While the performances are strong across the board, this is Samara Weaving’s show through and through. She finds a pitch-perfect balance between complete terror and vulnerability, childlike bewilderment, and total badass who won’t go down without a fight. And while they’re quickly separated in the hunt, Weaving and O’Brien have great chemistry that brings to mind April and Andy in Parks and Recreation. Though Weaving already made a splash in Mayhem and The Babysitter, this is her most prominent role to date. Her next role is in next year’s Bill & Ted sequel, so if there’s any justice in this world enough people will see this movie and in turn she’ll have a career as long-spanning and successful as her uncle Hugo’s.
There is something to say about Ready Or Not arriving in the same month that the release of The Hunt was indefinitely canceled. Without having seen the latter film it is hard to compare the two, but Ready Or Not does have something to say about class and money. The movie argues that it is not money at the root of all evil, but that evil is the root of all money. It is a less direct allegory for socioeconomic inequality than rich people hunting poor people in The Purge, but it makes for a satire with timeless appeal.
Ready Or Not breathes new life into the people-hunting genre with a fast-paced, brutal fun time. In just 95 minutes, blood is spilled, laughs are had, and expectations and genre tropes are met and subverted, ending in an explosive finale that will leave you eager to RSVP for this particular wedding over and over.