REVIEW: ‘Ready or Not’ is One Hell of a Game

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Ready or Not

Violence, satanic sacrifices, and guts aren’t really how you want to spend your wedding night but in Ready Or Not, directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, that’s just what newlywed Grace gets. Starring horror queen Samara Weaving, Ready or Not puts Grace through the worst wedding night imaginable when she’s asked to play a game.

Now, marrying into an extremely wealthy family is going to come with its fair share of old-money traditions, but when she draws a card with the game “Hide and Seek” on it, it turns deadly. While Grace joins in the game, jokingly attempting to hide until sunrise, she soon realizes that the weapons in the game room aren’t just for decoration. With her new husband’s help, it’s now up to Grace to survive the night and maybe kill an in-law or two.

With such a simple premise, I was extremely worried that watching the trailer gave away too much of the shock moments and stories. While an arrow through the mouth is shocking in the trailer, Ready or Not offers up plenty of other creative gory moments to make you squirm in your seat and scream along with the characters. The film is far from torture porn, but it does offer up the most gratuitous blood effects that I’ve seen a film this year – we’re talking A Nightmare on Elm Street fountain level.

That being said, for every shocking kill or injury, Ready or Not also serves up an ample amount of dark humor. The laughs come in large part from the perfect comedic timing, matching the awkwardness of first-time killers with the shock of an arrow through a skull. The intensity of scenes transitions into laughs in a way that leaves you thoroughly engaged and invested in Grace’s survival while also laughing at the ineptitude and shock of those hunting her down.

In addition to Ready or Not’s ability to balance horror, suspense, and comedy, it’s success on these three accounts is due to the chemistry between the actors. From Adam Brody as the alcoholic older brother Daniel, Melanie Scrofano as the drug-addicted sister Emilie who can’t do anything right, to Andie MacDowell as protective mother Becky, every single actor in this ensemble cast brings elements of humor and dysfunction. The eccentric characters work to build out a family dynamic that you buy into from the first moments of the film.

But of course, Weaving steals the show as Grace. Orphaned from a young age, Grace just wants a family. Having been the one pushing for marriage, she immediately regrets her decision when the axes and hunting rifles come out. Her interactions with each character are believable. With her mother-in-law Becky, Grace is focused on being accepted as one of the Le Dumas family. They identify with each other and feel for each other, until they don’t. Their fight against each other is not only brutal in its physical violence but in the verbal attacks. Weaving is able to pull the audience into a journey in each character relationship, specifically with Becky, Daniel, and of course her new husband Alex (Mark O’Brien).

From beginning the film as a loving pair with chemistry that pulls you into their romance to the end when Grace refuses to be near him, the casting of O’Brien opposite Weaving is one of the wisest of the film. In addition, Brody’s performance adds a balance to the story and Grace’s relationship with Le Dumas clan, which for spoiler’s sake, is better left unexplored in this review.

Horror, even those in the genre that thrive on comedy and violence, does well when it focuses on its characters. This way, it builds out relationships between them in a way that impacts the kills and horror that they’re subjected to. Weaving’s range from showcasing how uncomfortable it is to be a person who is in a world they don’t fit into – in this case, old money, to fearing for her life, to fighting back. It all works to tell her journey in three acts. Ultimately, Grace’s journey through the film is what grounds Ready or Not and separates it from others in the genre.

Grace goes from dutiful daughter-in-law searching for a family to a woman running on fear and finally, a woman fighting back. She maintains her agency regardless of how many times she is bloodied, bruised, or at a disadvantage. Weaving is a force on screen in every one of these steps. She is charismatic, empathetic, and the choice to have her character remain in her wedding gown and its transition through the film showcases her journey through the Le Dumas family.

In addition to Weaving’s emotional performances with other characters in the film, her performance during the violence is also to be commended, as is the direction of it.  A common pitfall of horror, specifically home invasion or slashers, is the focus on keeping the lead female character pretty. She may be cut or scraped but her beauty remains intact.

Thankfully, Ready or Not puts Weaving’s Grace through the wringer and she looks like it. No cuts heal from one scene to another, the blood soaks her clothes, and her hair becomes a matted mess. This isn’t to say that Weaving’s beauty isn’t present throughout the film, but she is allowed to have moments of visceral reactions. She is allowed to contort her face and scream in pain or determination. She is allowed to fight how she needs to even if it involves punching a child in the face.

Finally, Ready or Not‘s success is also in how it acknowledges the gaps in logic required to make the premise of the film work, playing with them throughout the film. A rich household covered in cameras? Disable them to abide by tradition. The murderous Le Dumas family starts to lose? Of course, it’s time to turn them on. A small blonde girl beating everyone she encounters? Have the family patriarch comment on his family’s inability to subdue someone half their size and then showcase how she does it by highlighting the injuries she receives through the process to keep her from becoming the immortal final girl.

Truthfully, I don’t find much fault with Ready or Not. Even the transition from a well-lit screen to a dimly lit house is executed well. With Grace’s bright white dress in stark contrast to the sepia house, the integrity of scenes without the dress are not compromised. They showcase Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett‘s abilities to use low lighting without inducing a squinting headache from their audience. In addition, the final twists set the audience up with expectations only to subvert them, making the last act one of the best of the year in the genre.

Ready or Not came out of nowhere. It wasn’t on most excited for lists, it wasn’t directed by Ari Aster or Jordan Peele, and it didn’t adapt a property from Stephen King. It is simply a horror film about survival that becomes more than the thrill of the kills. It pulls audiences into a fantastic game that has us rooting for our final girl and is sure to convert many viewers to the cult of Samara Weaving.

While the premise of Ready or Not is simple, it’s execution is masterful and understands the importance of setting, dialogue, humor, and characters. It balances eccentricities with insecurities and is one of the best horror films of the summer, showcasing the bright and bloody future for theater-horror. This is a must-see in the theater and a must-see with friends.

Ready or Not is playing nationwide now.

 


Ready or Not
  • 10/10
    Rating - 10/10
10/10

TL:DR

While the premise of Ready or Not is simple, it’s execution is masterful and understands the importance of setting, dialogue, humor, and characters. It balances eccentricities with insecurities and is one of the best horror films of the summer, showcasing the bright and bloody future for theater-horror. This is a must-see in the theater and a must-see with friends.