Ready or Not (2019)
Written by Guy Busick & R. Christopher Murphy
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
Horror comedies are a hard sell for me personally. I love the horror genre, but my tastes lean more towards more somber, bleak affairs with hints of humor. I think Ari Aster is a perfect example of how much comedy I will accept in the horror films I like, little dashes, well-timed, and never ruining the atmosphere and tone. Ready or Not is a movie that looks fantastic, the color grading is beautiful and gives every frame a rich texture. It comes out of the tradition of shlocky horror movies with a wild premise that the filmmakers wholeheartedly commit to. However, the script and some of the acting take away from what could have been a great film and leave as just a passing bit of fun.
Grace (Samara Weaving) has just gotten married to tabletop game & sporting good heir Alex Le Domas. The wedding was held in the family’s palatial estate, and as the day winds down, Alex informs Grace she will have to participate in a family tradition. On the night of any wedding, the new member of the family must draw a card from a strange box. The bride or groom must play that game with the family, and then they will be entirely accepted. Previous additions to the clan have played chess or Old Maid, however, Alex feels extremely nervous tonight. His fears are proven right when Grace draws “Hide and Seek.” She assumes it is the classic game played by children; however, the Le Domases play it with a deadly twist, hunting down “It” to kill them. Grace must make it until dawn or end up the latest sacrifice to the Devil that keeps the Le Domas family wealthy and powerful.
First, the themes of the picture are somewhat on the nose. The movie is about how wealthy people kill poor people to maintain their class position. They even have working-class people (i.e., the servants) complicit in the murderous acts. In the process, though, these workers are killed by accident while the wealthy react with simple annoyance. The rich are also woefully incompetent as we see many accidents occur, and Grace manages to outwit the Le Domas family at every turn. I am on record in my reviews as saying that I do not like themes so obvious they feel like a sledgehammer to the head, which is the category this film falls into. You don’t really have to think or dig like say in the similar Knives Out to reach the subtext. Everything in Ready or Not is surface text.
The acting is reasonably good, though. Samara Weaving is fantastic as Grace and at points really seems like she is having a mental breakdown while dealing with these psychopaths. Per the script, I think she doesn’t get enough development; we’re told she was raised in foster care, but I never really understood why she and Alex were so in love in the first place. Adam Brody, as Alex’s older brother Daniel, is another well-cast role. Brody can convey how truly tortured he is to have hurt his little brother and this woman he loves. Daniel is torn between his duty to keep the family’s comfortable position and his own humanity. Andie MacDowell plays the Le Domas matriarch Becky who married into the family and honestly likes Grace but has become enmeshed in the homicidal traditions.
Two roles where I really wish some stronger actors had been cast were the patriarch Tony and his sister Aunt Helene. Tony is played by Henry Czerny, who I recognized as an antagonist from Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible. He is okay, but Tony’s role could have been serviced better by an actor with more gravitas. That way, when the buffoonish side is revealed, and Tony starts messing up, it would have enhanced the comedic effect. Helene is played by Nicky Guadagni, who looks absolutely perfect. I want to emphasize that she is precisely what you would want this crazed zealot to look like. But when she opens her mouth, it just falls apart. It’s such a nitpicky thing, but her voice does not suit the over the top nature this character should be exuding. She looks so much like Amy Sedaris I almost wish they had cast her because her vocals would have knocked the role out of the park.
Ready or Not is one of those August releases that you so often see that isn’t going to rock your world but will provide you with an hour and a half of entertainment on a muggy summer day. You won’t feel that you wasted your time, but I doubt you’d need to urgently rewatch the picture again. I was surprised at how little killing our protagonist does, and I think there will be a lot of elements that surprise the viewer, just nothing all too clever or memorable.