Ready or Not is a brand-new original horror comedy from directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, written by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy, and stars Samara Weaving as Grace, a young woman from modest means marrying into the Le Domas family gaming empire (no, not that kind of gaming) which has been built on a legacy of board and card games running through the family for generations, resulting in vast sums of wealth. On the night of their wedding, Grace is told by her newly-minted husband Alex (Mark O’Brien) that she has to play a game as part of her initiation into the Le Domas family, and if she wins said game, she will be accepted as an official member of the family, with all the rewards that entails. After drawing a “hide and seek” card, Grace is given until the count of one hundred to hide; meanwhile, the Le Domas family prepares their respective weapons, seeking to hunt Grace down and kill her before sunrise to prevent an age-old curse placed upon their family from coming to collect. The movie also stars Adam Brody, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Melanie Scrofano, Kristian Bruun, Nicky Guadagni, Elyse Levesque, and John Ralston.
This summer movie season has been noticeably weaker than most, with the now highest-grossing movie of all time (worldwide, anyway), Avengers: Endgame ringing in the season at the tail end of April only for the excitement to mostly fizzle out over mediocre franchise sequels and spinoffs no one was asking for, the most notable exceptions being the tried-and-true Toy Story franchise spitting out yet another remarkable picture and a few indie hits like The Farewell or Booksmart, as well as a couple of pretty wonderful music films like Rocketman and Blinded By the Light, and one film whose writer and director is usually more associated with Oscar-season than summer, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Even horror hasn’t really been stepping up its game all that much over the summer. I mean, we had Midsommar and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, but the former is proving more divisive among horror fans and moviegoers than even I expected, and whilst the latter is respectable, it doesn’t exactly try much in the way of originality in its direction or new concepts (not that it has to; it’s still good), preferring instead to emulate the genre classics of the late 70’s and early 80’s and let that be enough for the story to coast on. And while I figured, sure, Ready or Not could probably be pretty fun (if a little self-indulgent), I was thoroughly unprepared for just how in love I was going to fall with this movie, and its refreshing originality.
Ready or Not is great, but in the way that only the very best of horror-comedies can be great, by stepping inside the confines of the genre and pushing its walls further outward. At its heart, it is a slasher, but the movie goes further than that by inserting that premise into another that it fits all too well: rich white people being absolutely fucking weird. We’ve all seen cult movies and slasher movies before, but rarely have we seen them work this well with this level of harmony, each complementing the other to create a perfect storm of great performances and comedy that almost always hits at exactly the right moments. The fusion of these two elements birth a piece that hasn’t been seen in modern horror for a long time, and the result is a beautiful, fun, crisp 90 minutes that will have you on the edge of your seat from the moment the game begins.
Even before the game begins, though, the filmmakers do exactly what great horror movies should do: get us in step with the characters. There are a few articles out there about how the movie justifies its third act “twist,” by setting up a major red flag early on after the game starts, but the truth is, there is no twist if you’re paying attention when that red flag is set up, and that red flag (while unexpected) is not surprising if you’ve been following these characters closely from the start of the film. As much as we want to root for certain members of the Le Domas family to break from the mold and help Grace escape this disaster of a night, we know from our own internal memories of various accounts and decades of horror in cinema that not only will that not happen, it can’t. Otherwise, the insidious message of the movie becomes that this sort of thing is okay as long as people belonging to it don’t want to be a part of it, and the need to decry such vileness is mentioned exactly nowhere.
And that’s to say nothing of how brilliantly the character of Grace is written. One of the subtler things this movie does is let Grace exist as a character without having to turn her into the “tough girl,” or some sort of badass who fights back and wins once the shit hits the fan, and as much as I still would have enjoyed seeing that, it wouldn’t have fit with her character, so I’m glad the writers recognized that and instead turned her into a survivor – just a girl trying to make it out alive, and one who will do anything to make that a reality. Grace is tough, yes, but she wouldn’t know combat; she wouldn’t be able to fight weapon to weapon against a family that’s been doing this ritual for decades and has probably had more than a few practice runs. Ready or Not recognizes this, and instead sees Grace’s resilience through her ability to shove a nail through her hand in order to climb out of a barn door or cut into her own back to get through a gate. It’s a really easy thing to miss, but these writers didn’t, and that kind of subtlety is what brings this movie up a notch from other horrors of the same type. Also, not for nothing, but the movie is shockingly well-shot for a movie of its type and simplistic pedigree, with Brett Jutkiewicz pulling off some truly stunning images, including one of Grace herself in her wedding dress, holding a shotgun with a bullet chain draped around her shoulders, the ultimate scream queen costume choice for feminism in the horror genre.
All the performances in the movie are absolutely fantastic, down to even the smallest of supporting turns. Most of the good stuff goes to Adam Brody’s drunken, apathetic brother-in-law of our main character, Andie MacDowell’s composed, but just off enough that you don’t want to push her matriarchal leader, and Kristian Bruun’s hilarious skeptic, but no one can outstep the queen and lead of the picture, miss Samara Weaving. She is every bit as good in this movie as you’ve heard she is, and probably more. I want to go see this a second time for her performance alone. She is remarkable, and channels Grace with just enough raw energy that one wonders if she won’t just snap and start slashing the family instead (again, luckily, she doesn’t, but still). Weaving has proved herself a titan of the genre in a single film, and while it has happened with one or two actresses before, none have so thoroughly commanded the screen and the audience’s attention more than Weaving’s Grace. It really may go down as one of my favorite performances of the entire year.
In terms of flaws, there is one single instance towards the end of the film where I thought it might have been the tiniest bit better if the main premise were left more ambiguous, but as it stands, how it played out didn’t bother me enough to really alter the score I was going to give it anyway, so that instance is neither here nor there.
Ready or Not is the most fun I’ve had watching a horror movie in a long time, and it will almost surely go down as one of the best horror films of the year. The comic elements work wonderfully, but the movie doesn’t forget its natural horror roots, and the mixing of two well-tested horror premises makes for some incredibly tense filmmaking. Beyond that, it is a brilliant showcase for Samara Weaving’s phenomenal performance chops, and a reminder none-too-soon that the best way to deal with the eccentricities of the 1% is to burn it all to the ground, divorcing ourselves from it before it kills us. Wow, what a ride.
I’m giving “Ready or Not” a 8.9/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.