“With family, one hopes for the best,” the Le Domas matriarch, Becky (Andie MacDowell), remarks sympathetically to our main character, Grace (Samara Weaving), as she sips a glass of wine. With this line, she simultaneously sums up the humor and the horror of “Ready or Not,” co-directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin (a founding member of the punk band Link 80) and Tyler Gillett. The film is fun, creative and surprisingly tragic.
“Ready or Not” follows Grace, a newly-wed, navigating the first night of her marriage into a wealthy family. But this is not the usual social dynamics of a new spouse; rather, the film devolves into a deadly game of cat and mouse as Grace struggles to survive the night as the family tries to kill her before dawn. The direction doesn’t get boring but is unremarkable. The writing is funny—at times stilted but overall fitting for what is undeniably an uncomfortable situation in itself.
The acting does not disappoint. Although some characters come across more like cutouts thrown in for comedic relief, many of the actors are able to bring depth to their roles, especially Samara Weaving. It is a genuine pleasure to watch Weaving fully embody her character, avoiding what could have been a one-dimensional combination of stereotypes and “Final Girls.” Her performance comes across as deeply real and heartfelt, maniacal laughter and all.
The qualities that I previously found so annoying in Andie MacDowell’s past roles (“Groundhog Day,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral”) now work in her favor—her characters have often felt fake or forced, almost too smooth, qualities that as a confusingly sociopathic mother in “Ready or Not” work perfectly. The same can be said for Henry Czerny, who plays his classic role of a morally bereft patriarch (“Revenge,” “The Tudors”). Mark O’Brien and Adam Brody (Seth from “The O.C.!”) bring to life the most conflicted characters and are pivotal figures in some of the most interesting ideas of the piece: complicity, the influence of families and the insidious legacy of wealth.
“Ready or Not” has more in common with a comedy/meta horror feature like “Cabin in the Woods” than another entry in the playing-a-game-with-rich-people horror genre, “Would You Rather.” “Would You Rather” seems to hold the bleak and fatalistic outlook of one of its characters, who decides “I guess beggars can’t be choosers” before dying. Meanwhile, “Ready or Not” instead seems to want its audience to come away with a slightly more hopeful message—the rich may be terrible and soulless but sometimes a curse will eliminate them! Or that no matter our wealth, we can all make choices. At times, it does feel as if the movie is confused about its own message. Can people break free of their own socialization? Does humanity contain an innate goodness? These are questions the movie asks but doesn’t answer. Sometimes it seems clear that the film believes that people can change and, at times, that change is impossible. I don’t think the movie really knows what it believes, but it is entertaining to watch it try to figure itself out.
The ridiculous humor mixed with gore and dark undertones felt almost familiar, even inevitable, (and not just because I recently wrote my own murder-mystery-comedy)—it felt like an answer to soul-sucking horror movies of the past (the aforementioned “Would You Rather,” the “Saw” series, “Cube” and “13 Sins” come to mind) and an answer to the looming real-life horror of wealth inequity in America, in the tradition of recent horror movies with something to say and a creative way to say it, such as “Get Out,” “Midsommar” and “It Follows.” More people, and, in an immediate sense, Grace, are being forced to deal with the consequences of centuries of the rich hoarding wealth while scapegoating the rest—they “earned” it, after all, by playing a game of Old Maid or Duck Duck Goose, and you can too, by surviving a deadly hunt! In the case of Le Domas family, the absurdity of this claim is clear, and viewers should carry that absurdity with them out of the theatre.So If you’re looking for a horror movie that makes you feel more sad than scared, more horrified of society than any jump-scare, or if you’re just looking for a fun night out, “Ready or Not” is worth checking out.