Marriage, children, death. There is never a right time, one can never be ready enough. Whether we’re ready or not, life happens fast. There is enough anxiety around those three genetic certainties, that we would partner and procreate and die, it would not help very much to gamify our weddings. Such is the plight of Grace (Samara Weaving), a blushing bride who finds herself at an immediate crossroads with her rich in-laws. She’d just like to have a family, hers were not around very much. But she is marrying into great, white wealth, and with it comes some grotesque rules to the game of marriage. The modern cinema loves a good family game night, as evidenced by the successes of Game Night (2018) and Tag (2018) and Truth or Dare (…also 2018), etc., etc., and this one is bloodier than most. They must play a game of hide-and-seek – an opportune horror premise if there ever was one, for a hiding game to unfold in a big creepy mansion.
She takes to the spirit of the game, despite its oddness, hiding for a while in a dumbwaiter. The family arms themselves to the teeth with crossbows and archaic weaponry and the hunt is on! Across a tightly wound 90 minutes, Ready or Not stays inside the fun of its premise, overcoming a flimsy script with brazenly efficient filmmaking. In Weaving, a star is born, as she capably holds any emotion the funhouse horror demands of her. She outperforms some big names here and is given so much to do in the script. There’s a turning point, as with any good Revenge movie, where the power shifts. Here, it’s when Grace rips apart the wedding dress, disavowing the rich, mascara running, converse sneakers pumping, channeling Tarantino’s bride. She achieves such an effortless cool, with the same charisma and on-the-money acting she finds in the drama, or the humor, or the class struggle of her story.
Her supporting cast hold their end up too. Her husband, Alex Domas (Mark O’Brien), portrays his courtship well, effectively mediating this overblown class metaphor so we may not ever know in the moment, what side he’ll end up on. He’s either making plays to help her survive or regressing into family traditions to hamper her progress – it’s awfully hard to choose between what you know and what you want. Of exceptional note is his brother (Adam Brody), who always performs to the level of the script or beyond and the same thing happens here. Brody is perhaps the finest built-in element, filled with drinks and unsure what side he really wants to be on either, but more than willing to help the bride, when it is comfortable for him. And longterm American Sweetheart Andie MacDowell plays the brothers’ mother dearest, the biggest challenge to the sanctimony of their wedding to be sure. Everyone is good, Weaving is exceptional.
Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (VHS, 2012) have efficiently shot the film so it moves quickly and with an economy to its horror. The script, by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy, does not offer them a lot, and yet they accomplish so much with such sparse circumstances. Sometimes it swells with a sickly green, perhaps the Instagram filter of choice for an afterparty. They have tremendous fun with the cat and mouse game, even if it doesn’t bore too many results from its playing. The Le Domas manor is like a character, where the ghost of the relative game tycoon hangs over the proceedings. We might think, with a family as absorbed in gamification, that the halls of the manor would provide many gags and tricks, but it’s pretty strait-laced, big enough to hide in, but not eclectic enough to really pay itself off, or feel the strange history of the location. Most of the gags instead come from character comedy, with a slightly starry cast, accommodating each other.
Fun is Ready or Not’s premium. It’s always moving, directing attention forward in an arc, never backstepping or falling victim to the potential gimmick of its game. It works on a purely entertaining level, fast and gory as they come. It has found a perfect release schedule, where it holds our attention at the dog days of summer, just as another Dangerous Game-esque romp (The Hunt) has been unduly canceled for its politics. Ready or Not, though, has the momentum of the moment. It could not be canceled – its politics smarter and intrinsically a part of how the film and internal game logic operates. It does not just want to say, eat the rich, but wants to feast on the rich on its own terms. It’s the first and last Ready or Not, given its new Disney parents – much like Grace – its dreams to be included, likely eschewed by the silly games of the uber-rich.