2019 | rated R | starring Samara Weaving, Henry Czemy, Andy McDowell, Kristian Bruun, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien | directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett | 1 hr 35 mins |
A welcome original IP that owes a lot to a lot of other works, Ready or Not differentiates itself from the pack by wrapping it’s bloody human-hunting and class warfare satire with a delicious gothic style. It is also a very self aware movie. The script is fueled on snark, profanity, audience winking and a keen sense of everything it’s riffing off of that will either delight or annoy.
The story starts with Grace (Samara Weaving, not Margot Robbie) getting ready to marry the son (Mark O’Brien) of the wealthy Le Domas family, who built their empire on a line of toys and board games. On the night of the wedding the family gathers to play a game with Grace as part of a tradition when any new member enters their circle. She unknowingly selects a life-or-death game of “Hide and Seek” that sends her hiding throughout the mansion and the Le Domas clan on a merry chase to find and eliminate her – or perish themselves.
It’s a convoluted, confined and impossible premise that attempts to skewer the rich who sold their souls for money while splattering the walls with blood (which it does nicely). Many critics have compared Ready or Not to Richard Connell’s human-hunting The Most Dangerous Game, but I’d like to cut a bit deeper. When you add the class warfare piece into the mix, Ready or Not really plays out like Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game if it were run by The Addams Family. Long before rich politicians were making it ok to demonize the rich in the private sector, filmmakers like Renoir and Luis Brunel were ruthlessly mocking the European bourgeoisie. It seems like writers Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy (not that Ryan Murphy) and directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett wear all of these influences on their sleeves, putting “games” at the forefront, mixing up a gothic cocktail of Connell, Renoir, The Exterminating Angel and Downton Abby. It’s fun to ponder the influences. Even the exterior of the mansion kinda, sorta is reminiscent of the mansion a sacrifice takes place in in The Rules of the Game.
With all these fun themes swirling around it’s not easy to admit that the script connecting them is not good. It trips over itself stopping and starting while explaining the rules of the movie’s universe, both the game and the supernatural soul-snatching reality in it. It starts with Henry Czemy (Kittredge from the first Mission: Impossible, an actor whose voice was born to make a meal out of expository monologues), but he doesn’t lay out everything. Instead of working like a rubber band that gets pulled back and released, the movie tries to hold stuff back for surprises, except it’s so pleased with it’s own cleverness the entire first act is filled with demonic double-entendre “foreshadowing”. It’s wacky that the family has to hunt Grace with their grandparents weapons, supplying matriarch Andy McDowell with a bow-and arrow, brother Adam Brody with a single shot rifle and game brother-in-law Kristian Bruun a crossbow (the Orphan Black scene stealer is wasted here), but this is the kind of movie that drops an F bomb as a punchline because it can’t think of anything actually clever to say. While I’m far from a profanity prude, it works aggressively against the tone here. And speaking of the family, the real breakout here is Nicky Guadagni as Aunt Helene, a ghoulish figure who sits in a chair like a perched falcon and wealds a battle axe almost twice her size.
With Bruun botched as the comic relief, Brody moping around, jokes about the family accidently wiping out the help falling flat and Weaving smirking through the action, the movie doesn’t have a likable character in sight. Not that we need one in a class warfare satire, but it would help in a survival horror movie. Again, at almost every turn, the movie seems to be marveling in it’s own quirkiness. When it shoulders up Grace in a wedding dress, sneakers and bullet bandolier it literally stops to marvel at itself. Your mileage may vary with how much you tolerate this and how much you can just go with it, but The Cabin in the Woods did the impossible sacrifice thing and Your Next did the quirky in-law horror-comedy thing, both without this kind of strain.
It requires a few contortions to get there, but the ending of Ready or Not might be one of the best of the year. The last 15 or so minutes of this movie are a ton of fun. I’ve pointed out a lot of movies that have a high concept premise that end up going with the lamest possible conclusion. Ready or Not finds the most interesting one.