First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a nightmarish game of hide and seek with your eccentric and massively rich in-laws. Or, at least, that’s how courtship goes for Ready Or Not’s Le Domas clan.
By marrying Alex (Mark O’Brien), no nonsense Grace (Samara Weaving) thinks she knows what she’s getting into. Sure, her new in-laws are snobby as hell, and not particularly thrilled that their youngest son is saying “I do” to a woman he’s known for just over a year, but what’s a little family tension when there’s true love on the line? So, when her new husband tells Grace that they have to participate in family tradition of playing a game on their wedding night, she sees it as a quirky opportunity for rapprochement.
But the Le Domases aren’t just any old rich dynasty. With a family fortune built on board games and playing cards, they owe a very peculiar kind of debt to their original benefactor — the mysterious Mr. Le Bail — and payment isn’t optional. When Grace is roped into a game of hide and seek, she sets off a dark, sporadic ritual: The family must find her and kill her before dawn, or suffer the consequences. I won’t get into any more specifics, since this movie is the kind best enjoyed by knowing as little as possible going in. Basically, think Succession, if the Roys had made a pact with a devil who will simply not “fuck off.”
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett from a sharp, snappy script by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy (not that one, shockingly enough), this pitch-black comedy/slasher film takes tired, homely horror tropes and gives them a fresh swipe of poison lipstick. The result is a deliciously demonic ride — tight and nimble at just 95 minutes — that will have you cackling even as you cringe down lower and lower in your seat.
The mood is elaborately set by Brett Jutkiewicz’s cinematography, all shadows and jewel-tones, which turn this quirky, but ornate, mansion into a killer playground. It’s kind of like reverse-Clue — rather than solving the mystery of Colonel Mustard in the music room, we’re witnessing the chase that potentially leaves Ms. Scarlet in a body bag. (Be warned: This movie is not for the squeamish. Ready or Not is gory. People slam their hands on nails; they shred their backs to ribbons on spiked gates; in some cases, they actually die — but not before viscerally gurgling blood.)
What makes this movie so entertaining is that everything exists on the border of banal reality: When they’re not hunting down their new daughter-in-law, Tony and Becky Le Domas (Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell, who rocks the most stunning high ponytail) are worrying about how to get Alex to come visit more often. Fitch (Kristian Bruun), married to Alex’s sister Emilie (Melanie Scrofano), spends half the night watching YouTube tutorials on how to handle the insanely old crossbow he was handed as a weapon. Older brother Daniel (well-played by Adam Brody, channeling a broodier, messy Seth Cohen) sneaks off for tumblers of Scotch in between petty fights with his wife, Charity (Elyse Levesque). Before anything even happens, there is an unending squabble about the rules of engagement, i.e. can they use security cameras, or only weapons available when old great-grandfather Le Domas launched the whole thing?
None of these bumbling one percenters are evil geniuses – in fact, because of the random nature of the game, this is the first time many of them have had to participate, and they handle this macabre task with the same attitude they might approach a competitive bout of bowling.
The same goes for Grace, who isn’t exactly trained to withstand an extended siege, but also doesn’t suddenly discover latent Rambo skills halfway through. She’s just a young woman impractically dressed in a corseted white lace wedding dress, trying to wrap her head around an outrageous situation. Weaving is incredibly charismatic and fun to watch, hilariously expressive and caustic without letting us forget how high the stakes are.
And speaking of sartorial choices — having to escape from a murderous rampage barefoot ranks among my worst case scenarios, up there with facing a tsunami in a bikini like Naomi Watts in The Impossible, so the sight of Grace taking the time to to cover her vulnerable soles with sensible sneakers was enough to sell me on the whole thing. In a genre populated by women who somehow scrape by without mussing their barrel curls, Grace is credibly strained — and stained — by the entire ordeal. Weaving told Refinery29 she went through 12 versions of her costume during filming.
But Ready or Not falters when it tries to delve deeper. For a movie that relies on banter as much as it does thrills, some of the dialogue (“Rich people really are different”) is unforgivably lazy, and the social commentary about the toxic nature of inherited wealth is more than a little ham-fisted. Real opportunities for introspection are casually brushed off, like the fact that the maids — perhaps the only people of colour in the film — keep getting skewered, while the family literally get away with murder. Still, the ending, which I won’t spoil here, is a delightfully campy surprise, and there’s more than enough of those moments throughout to ensure a screaming good time.
Ready Or Not is in UK cinemas 27th September