Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, Ready or Not stars Samara Weaving as Grace, a newlywed marrying into the Le Domas dynasty, a family who have made an empire out of various gaming. On her wedding night, Grace must play a game with the family in their home as a ritual, leading to her being hunted by the family as part of something deeply sinister.
From the trailer, Ready or Not looked like something pre-destined to become a horror favourite and cult film, showing every subsequent Halloween at midnight or equivalent screenings. In just 2½ minutes, you instantly get the dark wit and subversive thrills of the movie, enticing you to find out what will happen next and how the lead character Grace will get out of this nightmare.
Ready or Not is what the trailer promises and more. It has a dark wit about its proceedings, treating death as something to fear, sure, but in the end it’ll happen anyway so perhaps you shouldn’t dwell on it. Let it happen. The idea of people being hunted for sport by rich people or ritual killing isn’t a new concept, occurring in ancient Greece and during the Spanish Civil War, and it’s the plot of the American Dad episode “Family Plan”, but where Ready or Not goes is thoroughly intriguing as there is definitely something more to these events beyond elitism gone mad. I should say anymore, but just know that where Ready or Not ends up will be a shock and not something you could easily predict from the marketing, but that’s what makes it so fun.
Carrying the entire idea on her shoulders is Australian actress Samara Weaving and she does an outstanding job making us care deeply for Grace and her hellish struggle against bloodthirsty idiots lurking around every corner. Grace gets put through the absolute ringer in this movie, shot, stabbed, choked, beaten, betrayed, and drenching head to toe in blood, dead flesh, dirt, grime, smoke, and sweat, and Weaving absolutely nails that desperation and almost-Sisyphean task or surviving a system completely against her life, and I was riveted. There’s a few moments where the character just unleashes pure rage and hatred and internal fire and it instantly solidified Weaving’s performance as one of the best of the year. I’m serious.
Other supporting performances from Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Nicky Guadagni, and Melanie Scrofano playing various members of the Le Domas family are quite engaging in wildly different ways, selling us the realistic familial relationships and the eventual conflict that arises from trying to kill an innocent woman all in the name of tradition. They felt like characters ripped right out of a classic whodunnit mystery, now thrown into the real of horror comedy, and it all feels quite right and entire believable.
Composer Brian Tyler, who I have had problems with in his past scores (mostly Marvel stuff), delivers an effective, thrilling, delicate and sumptuous score that thoroughly surprised me and work so well in tandem with the story taking place. Brett Jutkiewicz shoots everything with fantastic light on gorgeous prime lenses, lending everything to a delicious indie-feel while still delivering those perfectly dark and fantastic shots I expect from great horror movies. In general, how Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett handle all the elements of filmmaking and story and character development at their hands is highly respectable, and they keep a twisted air around everything that keeps you second-guessing until the very last frame.
However, Ready or Not has numerous problems. Personally, I felt like the writing is made of two or more worthy drafts of the same idea done differently that was then condensed into the same movie, creating some rather jarring tonal shifts. The initial premise of a game of “Hide and Seek” going absolutely wrong in the worst ways leading to some eccentric dark comedy is worthy enough, and the other story at play looking deeper into the immorality of wealth, testing the bonds of family, and some real Rosemary’s Baby or The Omen-level twists would make for a great horror flick too, but the combination and balance of the two is left lacking at times. Some supporting characters are given set-ups towards a likely outcome or certain elements of the world are established as foreshadowing, and yet those ideas get forgotten about in the midst of Grace’s survival story. Also, and don’t take this in the wrong way, but for a movie billed as a “black comedy horror”, it could have been a bit funnier initially.
Ready or Not delighted me the most when it fully committed to it being a horror movie, rather than a generic thriller you could find on Netflix. Thanks to Samara Weaving giving a bravura performance worthy of the best in the horror genre like Mia Farrow, Ellen Burstyn, Toni Collette, Gregory Peck, Essie Davis, and too many more to count, some effective set pieces, some witty moments, a good central story once you cut away the fat, and some delicious scenes of blood, Ready or Not is a good, fun, sometimes challenging, thoroughly surprising time, that I do wish was better at times.
Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olphin, Tyler Gillett
Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien
Writers: Guy Busick, Ryan Murphy