Movie Review: Ready or Not.
Ready or Not takes a bloody and often funny stab at class warfare, marriage, and the ties that bind.
The latest feature film from the guys over at Radio Silence hit theaters this weekend. I’d put in the leg work to see their previous work, but this dark comedy/horror was its own animal. It had much of the absurdist humor of The Interactive Adventures, and plenty of the gore and shocks of Southbound or V/H/S. Ready or Not blends those aspects with social critiques of class, marriage, and family power dynamics. Welded together around a deadly game of hide and seek, it creates as many laughs as it does shrieks. I was thoroughly entertained during the films svelte 95 minute run time. After it was all over, I did wish that directors Tyler Gillet and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin had used their satire to cut closer to the bone.
Ready or Not (2019).
Grace (Samara Weaving) has wedding day jitters. Having grown up poor in foster care, she feels completely out of place at the palatial mansion of her intended beau. It doesn’t help that his family’s reaction to the union ranges from mild disappointment to active disgust. After her wedding, things only get worse. The Le Domas family, who made their wealth making board games, require all outsiders marrying in to the family to play a little game. Grace discovers that her game will be hide and seek – except she is the one hiding and the rich family will be seeking her armed to the teeth and out for blood.
All in the Family.
Ready or Not’s cast is a touch uneven. Samara Weaving as Grace gives a fantastic performance. Even before she is forced to fight for her life, we see that she’s a tough cookie, but ultimately an optimist. She gives her hubby Alex (Mark O’Brien) and his eccentric family the benefit of the doubt. It builds sympathy for her before dropping her into hell, raising the emotional stakes for the audience.
Most of the family are a touch one-note. They can be funny, but don’t resonate. The exceptions are Adam Brody (Shazam) as Grace’s frequently inebriated new brother-in-law Daniel, and Andie MacDowell as Alex and Daniel’s “blood is thicker than water” mother. I liked MacDowell’s self-serving sisterly approach to Grace, which she discards the moment Grace poses a threat to the family. She’s a fine villain for this piece. Brody’s Daniel is a fascinating character. We first witness him as a child sparing Alex the horror of witnessing an earlier game of hide and seek; next we hear Grace complaining to Alex how he’s a drunk and lecher. These two conflicting portraits get deftly manipulated by Brody and the script, so we never really know which man Daniel truly is inside.
The horror and comedy elements in the film cohabitate peacefully. There are some truly horrific scenes, mostly moments of body horror where an increasingly chewed-up Grace has to sacrifice one more wound to escape impossible situations. The comedy may be broad, but it was effective. Dead pan responses to absurd situations abound, and the one accident prone sister constantly misfiring her weapons usually ends up with both blood and laughter.
The element of the film that I felt never fully materialized was the social satire underpinning the premise. The “rich versus poor” theme is obvious, but doesn’t offer any more insight than “rich people are entitled and awful.” One reason I didn’t go for some of the performances is because the people they’re playing are just every nasty caricature of wealth you can think of. Vapid, clueless, spineless, self serving, cruel, and devoid of empathy. They’re cardboard villains.
If all they existed for was to be punching bags for Grace to get righteous vengeance, I’d have been alright. But Grace gets precious little revenge on her tormentors. In fact, she mostly just beats up the help. I guess it could be a wider play on the robber baron sentiment “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half” and the willingness of the oppressed to enable their oppressors. If so, it could have used more development.
The other theme is the fetishization of family. Andie MacDowell’s character’s sole driving motive is to preserve the family against outsiders. Grace accepts the derision of her new family because she is starved to be in a family of her own. She’ll even accept a shitty one. We don’t really get an epiphany moment where our characters realize they’re letting the idea of family turn them into monsters. We just see the blood that results.
Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.
My gripe that the film didn’t really bury its hatchet deep enough on the subtext aside, I really enjoyed Ready or Not. The mansion setting was gorgeous and filled with eye-catching details. The lore of the Le Domas family is not fully fleshed but tantalizing. Samara Weaving really dives into her role with gusto. The first two acts bounce between blood letting, story building, and dark comedy effectively. The final act runs out of runway in places, but did have some strong points. At the end of the day, you’ll get a tight little “The Most Dangerous Game” horror thriller with good comedic beats. It doesn’t quite match the adroit social satire of Jordan Peele’s Get Out, but functions well enough as its own beast.