Review: Ready or Not

by Andrew Parker

The effectively simple and fast paced survival thriller Ready or Not offers up one final blast of giddy, gory fun just as the summer is wrapping up. While it’s easy to see exactly where Ready or Not got most of its best ideas and set pieces, that doesn’t make the film any less of a satisfying, darkly comedic crowd pleaser. Anyone expecting a deeper message about class divides from this story about an everywoman forced into mortal combat against wealthy, homicidal elites won’t get everything they’re looking for here, but that hardly matters when Ready or Not is the kind of films that’s so overwhelmingly entertaining that any greater context or meaning isn’t particularly necessary. It’s a delightfully decadent dark carnival that seems primed for cult movie status.

Grace (Samara Weaving) has just married Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), the man of her dreams and heir to his family’s immense fortune, which is built upon a successful and lucrative “gaming dominion.” Grace was raised in a foster home, and while the Le Domas clan seems to be more refined, entitled, and operate in a higher tax bracket than she’s accustomed, the young woman is excited to settle down and become a part of a family she can call her own. But first, there’s the little matter of engaging in an archaic family tradition before she can be fully accepted as a Le Domas. At the stroke of midnight on her wedding night, Grace has to play a game with her new family members. It’s a ritual meant to honour the memory of Alex’s dead grandfather, Victor, who started the family’s gaming, sports, and amusements empire, and the family’s mysterious benefactor. The game is selected by a mysterious sort of puzzle box that decides what will be played by spitting out a seemingly random card. Most of the games are fairly innocuous fare like chess and old maid, but Grace has the misfortune of drawing hide and seek. The rules are relatively the same, in that Grace has until the count of 100 to find a hiding place in the Le Domas mansion while the rest of the family tries to find her, and the only way she can really win is to stay hidden until dawn, which the bride isn’t exactly thrilled about, but she’s willing to go through with it if it means love and acceptance. What she doesn’t immediately realize, however, is that hide and seek means there are deadly stakes in play, as the Le Domas family now has to hunt down their new daughter/sister-in-law and kill her before sunrise.

Ready of Not takes the best and most crowd pleasing elements of The Most Dangerous Game, Your’re Next, The Purge, and Clue and blends them into a tasty, bloody smoothie. Directed with ingenuity and energy by Radio Silence filmmaking collective members Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Devil’s Due, Southbound, V/H/S) and snappily penned by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy, Ready or Not isn’t pretending to be something it’s not, but rather the best version of what it could hope to be. After a brief set up to establish the secret passage packed mansion (which is in Oshawa in real life and is probably best recognized as the house from Billy Madison), the players involved, and the game’s loose and freely interpreted set of rules, Ready or Not is off to the races, bouncing its protagonist around between increasingly deadly situations with various members of the dysfunctional family.

Grace has to stay one step ahead of her seekers. Alex, who doesn’t agree with his family’s traditions, tries to keep his wife out of harm’s way and away from his homicidal relatives. Other than him, there’s Daniel (Adam Brody), Alex’s equally unimpressed, fed up, alcoholic brother, and his social climinging, gold-digging wife (Elyse Levesque); the drug addled, perpetual screw-up sister (Melanie Scrofano) and her ineffective doofus husband (Kristian Bruun) who have a pair of psychopaths in training for offspring (Liam MacDonald and Ethan Tavares); the parents (Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell); creepy, battle axe wielding Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni) and the family’s non-related, but equally deadly butler (John Ralston). The cat and mouse game chugs along with buckets of gore (perhaps too much for some, as the editing sometimes awkwardly cuts around various bits of nastiness, perhaps to avoid an NC-17 rating, which would be death for something this silly) and is set to a memorably jauny score, courtesy of Brian Tyler.

There’s an abundance of character development throughout Ready or Not that plays nicely into the story’s twists and turns, with many of the supporting roles given sometimes unusual amounts of depth and backstory. It’s strange, then, that this desire to take a character based approach doesn’t extend to the film’s protagonist. All the audience knows about Grace is that she was brought up in a foster home and that she just got married. There’s more to learn about the villains and the motivations of the family, but that’s it for the heroine, which is really disappointing at first, but Weaving makes for a compelling and likeable badass worth rooting for. She sells the comedic and more painful looking bits of Ready or Not equally well, aided nicely by the make-up and costuming departments, who do a fine job of making sure she gets increasingly dirtier, bloodier, and more haggard as the character’s ordeal progresses. Everyone else gets plenty to sink their teeth into – particularly Brody, Scrofano, and Bruun, who handily steal the show – but Weaving remans Ready or Not’s captivating centre. Whether she’s selling a painful looking injury or screaming her displeasure at a passing motorist, Weaving’s commitment to the part is unwavering and confident; exactly what this sort of role needs to succeed and hold the film together.

Right from the start, viewers should be prepared to watch Ready or Not with a healthy suspension of disbelief and tongue firmly in cheek. While the whole point of the film is to show Grace as a conquering world beater and the Le Domas family as their own worst enemies, the credibility of the whole enterprise (not to mention its overall practicality) grows increasingly strained as the film goes on, leading to a final reveal so poorly hidden that it’s like someone left a spotlight on in the auditorium. Thankfully, that twist is backed up by a genuinely satisfying conclusion to send things out on a blood drenched high note. Just like the nasty party games Ready or Not has been built around, it’s the kind of film that’s here for a good time, not a long time. The pleasures are simple, but well earned.

Ready or Not opens in theatres everywhere on Wednesday, August 21, 2019.

Check out the trailer for Ready or Not:

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