Ready or Not, much like Crawl last month, is a reminder that clever and brazenly original summer fare can and should exist.
Like the scheming step-daughter of Cabin in the Woods and You’re Next, from V/H/S directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, Ready or Not is a delightful late summer surprise. It’s hard not to draw comparisons to last month’s Crawl, which delivered similar lean and mean chills, spills and laughs in a tight 90 minutes.
And best of all, both Crawl and Ready or Not feature fearsome new heroines to root for. Here, it’s Samara Weaving, who made a splash in 2017’s horror-comedy The Babysitter, playing the titular babysitter. As bride-to-be Grace, she is a force of nature, sneering, screaming, cackling and eye-rolling her way through a night of pure hell. In terms of brides roaring and rampaging, she’s right up there with Kill Bill‘s Uma Thurman.
It is Grace’s wedding night, and she’s about to marry into a wildly affluent gaming empire family, owned by the parents of her groom, Alex (Mark O’Brien). Grace is already weary of her future in-laws due to their gross wealth and strangely proper customs, manner and attire. They are a very protective family, skeptical of anyone who has married into the family in the past, always thinking they’re after the family money.
Little does Grace know this one-percent nonsense of Alex’s family is the least of her worries. After the ceremony concludes, Grace is invited by the family to play a game. They explain that the family business’ overseer is a man named Mr. Le Bail, who seems more of an ominous all-powerful entity than any formerly living being.
Grace is instructed to withdraw a blank card to select which game she’ll play with the family, which ranges from checkers to a simple card game like Go Fish. Every once in a great while, someone marrying into the family has the unfortunate luck to draw the “Hide and Seek” card. Grace pulls it, chuckles and asks whether they’re really going to play the game.
Well, play they game they do…and as the trailer reveals, antique weapons get pulled off the wall, and the family lines up wielding those weapons, as the hunt for the bride begins. The head of the family, Tony (Henry Czerny), believes that if they don’t sacrifice Grace before dawn, Mr. Le Bail will kill them all.
Alex discloses what’s going on to Grace, who immediately enters fight or flight mode to fend for herself. The preposterous premise is handled deftly, and Ready or Not does a miracle of a juggling act with its multiple tones. One second the movie is deadly serious, and the next, a bumbling family member is accidentally spearing someone through the head with an arrow.
The cast of the family is rounded out by Adam Brody, who plays Daniel, Alex’s brother, a long-wavering member who seems on the precipice of turning away from this savage tradition. And then there’s national treasure Andie MacDowell, who plays the matriarch, exuding the perfect mix of warmth and severity. Seeing her draw back an antique crossbow is worth the price of admission alone.
Even with a rather familiar setup of the rich disposing of human lives for ritual or entertainment, a la Hostel or The Most Dangerous Game, this iteration of the premise still manages to feel fresh and exciting. It’s thanks to the largely mocking tone and Gothic styling of the mansion and the kooky characters within.
Some of the best moments of the movie are when Grace calls out the absurdity of the situation she finds herself in. When Grace realizes it’s time to fight for her life, she adorns herself with an antique rifle and a roll of ammunition she wears as a sash. Ripping the bottom of her wedding dress and throwing on her Converse, she then looks into her mirror and mutters, “Jesus.”
It’s such a fun, winking moment where Grace joins the audience’s perspective in acknowledging the insanity of what we’re witnessing. Other moments abound where Grace mutters to herself in disbelief. This knowing tone is when Ready or Not is at its best, but the directors don’t always strike it pitch-perfectly; and so when they do, it becomes frustrating knowing it could always be operating at this level.
This especially is true once we arrive at the explosive (literally) finale. The absolutely outlandish conclusion is as insane as anything I’ve seen this year and really drives home the fact that the rest of Ready or Not could’ve gone this hard. The tone is immaculate, the violence is fittingly gruesome, but unfortunately, it makes everything that came before seem tame in comparison.
Nonetheless, Ready or Not totally works as inspired, sinister entertainment with a killer, star-making performance from Samara Weaving. It’s a clever skewering of not only the one-percent but, in a smaller sense, the strange rituals of family that we learn to accept. As to the former, it’s perfectly summed up in one line uttered in the movie: “F***ing rich people.”