So much of what makes the new horror comedy Ready or Not so effective is that it doesn’t feel like it takes place in the real world, even when blood is quite graphically shooting out from every possible place on the bodies of the film’s many victims. Set entirely within the gated walls of the palatial Le Domas family estate, the movie all takes place in less than 24 hours, beginning with the wedding of Grace (the truly magnetic and charming Samara Weaving, from Mayhem and Monster Trucks) and eldest son Alex (Mark O’Brien), who are clearly very much in love. He seems slightly hesitant to have the wedding take place at his childhood home, which he left many years earlier and only recently returned to the fold, much to the delight of his parents (Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell), who own and operate a wildly successful gaming empire and are sticklers for tradition.
It’s clear early on that something about the day and night to come is of concern to Alex, but he doesn’t explain what it is until it’s too late. Many family members, whispering that she is a gold digger, don’t think former foster child Grace is worthy of their heir apparent; but a few of the family’s less desirable members, including Alex’s younger brother Daniel (Adam Brody), actually dig having another potential outcast among their ranks. After the wedding guests have left, Grace is told that it is tradition when a new person joins the family that they must play a randomly selected game. Once the game is over—win or lose—that person is then officially part of the clan. But when Grace picks a card that says Hide & Seek, the mood shifts, and she is told that she has until the count of 100 to hide, and that she must stay hidden until dawn; despite initially thinking it’s a joke, she plays along for a time.
If you’ve seen the trailer then you know that as soon as Grace begins her hiding, the family begins selecting old-school weapons—from an old-school axe to a crossbow to every imaginable antique pistol—and begins hunting the poor girl down with the intent of killing her…as is the tradition. I’m not sure how this film about the rich hunting the less rich made it to the big screen, while a movie like The Hunt got yanked from the release calendar due to political pressure. Maybe it’s because Ready or Not is wickedly funny, as well as being shockingly violent at times.
There’s a running joke here that beautifully underscores the messages about the upper and under classes in the world. The estate has a handful of maids and one very intense butler who get knocked off (mostly by accident and carelessness) early in the film, and while the family seems a little bothered by this, their deaths are dismissed as collateral damage to the family’s greater purpose. They don’t want to be hunting Grace, but if they don’t kill her, we’re told something very bad will happen to them when dawn actually arrives. Although you may not have assumed this, Alex is actually very much against this process and attempts to protect Grace as best he can without being discovered as a traitor (he says he didn’t tell her about this game because it’s been decades since any new family member has drawn the Hide & Seek card).
The family is inherently bad at the game because they are either not into the idea of killing at all, or so into it that they let their bloodlust get in the way of playing the game intelligently (wait until you get a gander at Aunt Helene, played to the murderous hilt by Nicky Guadagni). Grace is also an absolute survivor from way back, so once she figures out exactly where she stands and what she has to do, she is usually several steps ahead, though doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a rough evening. Through one room after another (and that doesn’t include the maze of hidden passages for the servants within the walls), the opulence on display is almost sickening, but it does offer new opportunities for both inventive hiding places and improvised weaponry.
Thanks to tight, effective directing by the Radio Silence team of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Devil’s Due, as well as segments in the anthologies Southbound and V/H/S) and perfect pacing, Ready or Not zings like electricity. The killings are not clean and bloodless—this is a hard R rating; they are gruesome and never let us forget that, although the mood is often light, the stakes here are human life.
The production design and set decoration are exquisite and very deliberately frame the increasingly frazzled Grace to make her look and feel small and undeserving to even be within these walls. Her beautiful wedding dress is the only costume we see her in, and it gets more and more tattered and filthy as the movie goes on. And when she comes face to face with someone who wants to kill her, she doesn’t beg for her life; she pleads for them to stop this stupid tradition, which is seeped in superstition and ancient family secrets. The film could have been simply the story of a young woman trying to survive in a world full of powerful people (especially men) who will never view her as an equal, but the full-bore attack on the rich seems almost more subversive and satisfying. If you can handle substantial quantities of blood, this is an easy film to throughly enjoy.
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