Ready or Not‘s premise is as simple as it is devastatingly ludicrous: At every wedding the Le Domas family, an insanely wealthy board-gaming dynastic family, play a simple game at midnight to welcome the newest member of the family. This year it is Grace’s (Samara Weaving) turn as the eldest son’s bride to blindly draw a card to determine exactly what game the family will play. Unfortunately she picks the worst possible card.
That sets off Tyler Gillet and Matt Bettenelli-Olpin’s terrifying, and terrifically fun, horror movie about “f***ing rich people” that is both a throwback to the long-forgotten era of Vincent Price-helmed camp-horror movies like House on Haunted Hill, The Raven, and The Comedy of Terrors while being a biting contemporary satire of the 1% and the very different lives they live from the rest of us. Aside from the very obvious, and funny, jabs at the 1% it is a movie that from frame one does not seem to take itself seriously, and is practically begging you not to do so either. And it is easily the most fun I’ve had at the movies in awhile.
We meet Grace on the day of her wedding to Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), the oldest and estranged son of the Le Domas clan. A foster child who has always longed for a family, Grace nonetheless finds the opulence and aristocratic attitudes of her soon-to-be in-laws both intimidating and slightly ridiculous, a sentiment that Alex shares. Yet due to family tradition the happy couple find themselves in the last place Alex wants to be and yet for reasons unexplained knows he has to be: getting married on the lawn of his father’s extravagant estate. And for reasons again unexplained later that night Alex drags his feet, and Grace’s, into the family room for their midnight ritual.
Joining them at the game table is Tony (Henry Czerny), the family patriarch, and his wife Becky (Andie MacDowell) as well as Tony’s bitter and hostile sister Helene (Nicki Guadagni). The next generation is represented by Alex’s younger and alcoholic brother Daniel (a terrific Adam Brody) and his clinically calculating wife Charity (Elyse Levesque) as well as Alex’s cocaine-addicted sister Emilie (Melanie Scofano) and her noxious husband Fitch (Kristian Bruun). Previous iterations of this game-night ritual have produced harmless games of chess and old maid, so the chances of anything other than the benign happening are slim. That is until Grace draws the game “Hide and Seek”. While Grace gamely plays along and seeks out a spot to hide in the La Domas mansion, unbeknownst to her the atmosphere downstairs has shifted. The clan, sans a distraught Alex, arm themselves to the teeth with turn-of-the-century weapons knowing they now have a grim mission ahead of them: Find and kill Grace before dawn, or suffer the consequences of losing the game.
Upon hearing this premise the viewer has one of two options: scoff at the ridiculousness of the story and check out, or go all-in and strap in for the ride. To those who choose the latter option, you can take comfort in knowing that filmmakers Gillet and Bettinelli-Olpin similarly go all-in, playing by the strict rules of the game they set-up and guiding their thrilling roller-coaster of a movie to its glorious and satisfying end. To say more about the story would be to spoil the fun.
As is the case for a movie as tight as this, special mention needs to go to the exceptional cast who help elevate the movie to above it’s B-Movie-horror material. The supporting players get little time to establish themselves, so it helps when actors like Guadagnini (as Helene) pretty much establish exactly who they are with a single look or Bruun (Fitch) is able to emote through the mere presence of his flop sweat. Henry Czerny meanwhile is fantastic in his role as the scenery-chewing and increasingly unhinged patriarch; it is an utter compliment when I say that it was so easy for me to imagine Vincent Price in this role thanks to Czerny’s pitch-perfect hamminess. But it is Adam Brody who stands head-and-shoulders above the rest of the ensemble cast (all hail the Brody-naissance!) as the morally conflicted Daniel, who finds his moral center simultaneously eroded and strengthened by the presence of alcohol, wavering between his ever-diminishing need to cling to his humanity and the inexorable pull to follow in his family’s traditions and history. When the movie escalates to crazier and crazier heights, it is Brody who keeps things somewhat grounded to our world.
But truly this movie belongs to Samara Weaving, who, like Jamie Lee Curtis did in Halloween, literally becomes a star before our eyes as this movie progresses. She crucially navigates the thin-line between being terrified at her predicament and in smug disbelief at the practices of her in-laws. So often the “final girl”-trope requires the heroine to slowly discover her strength, presumably after fleeing in terror numerous times before. In Weaving’s case however it is readily evident that whatever the Le Domas clan is willing to dish out, she is more than willing hand back to them in spades. When, early in her trials, she rips up her cumbersome wedding gown it is equal parts heartbreaking and empowering; it is the abandonment of a fantasy she barely dared indulge in before, and the symbol of her deep resolve to survive. Most of these horror movies require you to at least sympathize with the victims in order for it to work; Weaving has you actively rooting for her from minute one.
Ready or Not is a movie of brutal efficiency, barely wasting a minute of its already brief 95 minute runtime. More importantly it also knows not to wear out its welcome, coming to its bloody inevitable conclusion and getting out with a speed and efficiency that is staggering simply because it seems to be a lost art nowadays (here’s looking at you It: Chapter Two). Here’s hoping that it is well on its way to earning the cult-movie status it so thoroughly deserves.
Runtime: 95 minutes
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet
Written by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy
Starring Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Melanie Scrofano, Kristian Brunn, Nicky Guadagni, Elyse Levesque