Ready or Not (2019)
Release Date: August 21, 2019 (Wide)
Marrying the love of your life and not being able to choose your in-laws is the jumping-off point in “Ready or Not,” a frequently surprising, dementedly funny, ruthlessly paced hoot of a horror-comedy thriller. Stylishly directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (2014’s “Devil’s Due”), the collective known as Radio Silence, from a script by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy (not that one) with little fat on its bones, the film draws from Richard Connell's short story "The Most Dangerous Game," 1985's farcical "Clue," and 2013's ingeniously deceptive dysfunctional-family slasher “You’re Next," making for one of the most pleasurable late-summer surprises, pleasant or unpleasant depending on who you are. Tonally confident and giddily satisfying, “Ready or Not” is a total gas laced with a gallows sense of humor and a healthy helping of dead rich folks.
About to tie the knot with sweet husband-to-be Alex (Mark O’Brien) at his family’s extravagant estate, Grace (Samara Weaving) is intimidated to be marrying into the Le Domas dynasty, a board game empire. Raised in foster homes, she already fears they don’t like her, and Alex even offers her an out to just leave after the wedding. Alex’s mother, Becky (Andie MacDowell), thanks Grace for bringing her estranged son back into the fold, while father Tony (Henry Czerny) thinks his son could have done better. If Alex’s family didn’t already seem eccentric, hoity-toity, and deeply dysfunctional, they are also very strict about sticking to their unconventional traditions. At the stroke of midnight, Grace is asked to partake in a game like an initiation; once she blindly draws a card for Hide and Seek, Grace plays along and hides. The Le Domas family, meanwhile, collect antique guns, cross bows, and battle axes and count before seeking the hunted bride, while Alex sits the game out. If Grace can fight back better than she can hide, she must try to stay alive until dawn.
Running a svelte 95 minutes, “Ready or Not” doesn’t waste a single moment, beginning as a slightly off-kilter wedding comedy before transforming into a thrilling, darkly hilarious cat-and-mouse chase of a crowd-pleaser. From the start, the newly married Grace is a vulnerable, strong-willed, funny, resourceful heroine whom we can easily get behind, and don’t underestimate her revenge even when a young boy shoots her. The Le Domas family itself is an array of colorful characters, not all of them entirely heartless at first but all of them out for the literal kill in the name of family tradition and wealth. While the reason the Le Domas clan initiates the game for their own benefit will be kept under lock and key and left to the viewer to see how it unfolds, there is stealthy commentary on class warfare and how far the 1% will go to sell their souls in order to keep their fortune and privilege. Aside from the fact that one wonders how the others who married into the family got away scot-free in just playing Old Maid or a more innocent game, it’s a mere nitpick in an otherwise pretty airtight script entirely set inside and on the grounds of the estate.
Stealing the show in previous horror-comedies (2017’s “The Babysitter” and “Mayhem”) that should have already made her star, Samara Weaving is spectacular in what should be a breakout role as Grace. Even as she gets put through the wringer in a tattered wedding dress that she later modifies, Weaving is a badass with dead-on comic timing, never playing Grace as a damsel in distress but thankfully not turning her into an invincible superwoman, not unlike Sharni Vinson’s Erin in “You’re Next.” By the time Grace is royally pissed-off and has had enough, her primal war cry is absolutely cathartic.
The ensemble gets more than enough to dig their teeth into as well. Mark O’Brien, as Grace’s new hubby, has a tough role to navigate, as both Grace and the audience are never sure if we should trust him or not, but he pulls it off with aplomb. Smoking from an elegant cigarette case and given harsh make-up, Andie MacDowell is game to play the In-Law From Hell, who shows a sweet and nasty side, and Henry Czerny seizes every scene with a wicked glint in his eye as the patriarch Tony. Nicky Guadagni is a darkly comic secret weapon with merely a dagger-sharp scowl as the disapproving Aunt Helene, who might be the most tied to following her family’s rituals but also shows open disdain for her niece, whom she calls “Brown-Haired Niece” rather than by name. Adam Brody, as Alex’s perpetually drunken brother Daniel, is snarkily amusing with a layer of vulnerability and inner conflict, while Elyse Levesque is iciness incarnate as Daniel’s gold-digging wife Charity. Melanie Scrofano and Kristian Bruun are also quite funny in their own right, respectively, as the manic, bumbling Emily Le Domas and Fitch Bradley, her dolt of a husband who could be related to Milton.
If the accidental deaths of expendable, scantily clad housemaids don’t get a sick laugh every time, particularly because the family members are horrible shots at their actual target, then “Ready or Not” probably won’t be an easily offended viewer’s idea of a good time (but it should be). Radio Silence directs the hell out of their biting script, opening with a gothic credit sequence that displays the geography of the Le Domas manse and bringing a lot of visual style through lighting and production design as the film contrasts a sunny wedding day with a foreboding manor of secret passageways and strange family heirlooms. As the chase itself is suspenseful and excitingly staged, Grace holding her own against the Le Domas’ loyal butler Stevens (John Ralston) in a kitchen and fighting her way out of a pit, the film would seem to not know how to stick the landing, but oh boy, does it. “Ready or Not” ends with such a wildly unexpected, cheerfully blood-soaked punchline that one would be hard-pressed to find a more brazenly unforgettable sequence this year. Ready or not, here comes the most purely entertaining horror-comedy of 2019.
Grade: B +