Ready or Not finds Grace (Samara Weaving) all nerves on the day of her wedding to Alex (Mark O’Brien), heir to the Le Domas gaming empire and the bickering, judgy Le Domas family that goes along with it. Sure, dad Tony (Henry Czerny) is an impossible-to-please prick, mom Becky (Andie MacDowell) is an imposing viper, and their children inhabit the spectrum between “gold digger” (Elyse Levesque) and “sweaty drunk” (Adam Brody), but to Grace, they’re just the wealthy, WASPy, eccentric baggage that comes with marrying the love of her life, no matter what he warns to the contrary.
Which is why Grace thinks nothing of it when—instead of consummating her vows—her first night of wedded bliss involves playing a randomized parlor game with her new family, whose fortune was built on such diversions. Past initiates were tasked with playing, say, Go Fish, or chess, during this mandatory ritual, but Grace incredulously draws hide-and-seek and—as per the strict rules—must hide from the Le Domas family until dawn. Little does she know that the clan is brandishing antiquated weaponry (mom gets a bow-and-arrow, while the craggy old aunt gets a—hur-hur!—battle-ax) with the intent to kill her. As is tradition.
Grace eventually catches on that she must hide for her life from the coked-up daughters (Melanie Scrofano) and puffy Beetlejuice Otho-ish ponces (Kristian Bruun) trying to murder her—tearfully weathering lacerations, (repeat) puncture wounds, gunshots, and acute vomiting in her efforts to escape. The Le Domases, meanwhile, barely blink at any of “the help” being brutally manslaughtered in the crossfire, proving themselves a far more dangerously callous collection of narcissistic rich idiots than even the Bluths.
Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett understand that their newlywed-hunted-by-her-villainous-blue-blood-in-laws premise—and the hook of Ready or Not’s smart marketing campaign—is little more than the umpteenth variation of The Most Dangerous Game, delicious as their take often is. With that in mind, the deadly game of hide-and-seek is merely an amuse-bouche for the further wacko digressions in the picture, which turns out to be a nimble, if not particularly ingenious pastiche.
The byzantine, centuries-old mythology and evil, clockwork box at the center of the Hellraiser franchise is for some reason repurposed as part of Ready or Not’s own demented history. Third act shots frame star Weaving similarly to Winona Ryder’s battle-damaged antiheroine in Heathers, dangling cigarette and all; the murder-y, Upstairs, Downstairs, tabletop-game-indebted slapstick of Clue gets updated with more viscera and less Michael McKean.
Flatteringly, Ready or Not most prominently evokes the blackly comic You’re Next. Both depict the dysfunctional rich family drama of siblings hurling insults at each other even while crossbow bolts fly. Both boast a better-than-necessary visual palette of (generously) Caravaggio-esque golds, greens, and muddy blacks. And, best of all, both films’ preoccupation with proletariat vs. bourgeoisie satire disguised as blood-soaked genre thrills escaped the 280-character ire of the President of the United States. (Once The Hunt finally sees the light of day, these three’ll make a dandy triple bill.)
The Le Domas tools make for perfectly deplorable foes—especially sycophantic oaf Bruun—but none of Ready or Not‘s bride vs. weird rich family conflict would work if not for the winning lead performance by burgeoning genre star Weaving. After her Big Bad already impressed in The Babysitter (and, presumably, its forthcoming sequel) for Netflix, she’s now extended her horror cred as Ready or Not‘s scrappy, funny Final Girl. (After carrying those two pictures—and with her distinctive ululations—she’s well on her way to earning a scream queen crown.) A more passive lead may have let the absurdity of the Ready or Not eclipse them, but Weaving proves no slouch—fighting back and gamely expressing the “what the fuck” of it all by constantly reacting to everything at a 10. The image of her Grace in a truncated, bloodied wedding dress and her sneakers—a twisted parody of the Runaway Bride key art—says it all about Ready or Not.
Ready or Not may be short on character development and innovation—with internal logic that barely holds up to scrutiny and gory scares that aren’t scary or gory enough—but like any prospective cult favorite, the film more than makes up for its B-picture trappings with sheer enthusiasm and confidence. Comedy-horror is a tough balance to strike, but Ready or Not’s got it down thanks to some cheerfully zippy pacing, a capable lead, and the year’s best sudden blow-to-the-head-in-a-stable since John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. It’s gleefully deranged late-summer fun delivered in a satisfyingly shopworn box, original or not.
Ready or Not
Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Runtime: 95 minutes
Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell