Ready or Not (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★
She picked up the wrong card. Nobody expected it because for years no one has drawn the “Hide and Seek” card from the mysterious box. In Le Domas family, who made their fortune in businesses involving selling sporting goods, board games, and owning sport teams, it is believed that when this particular card is drawn by someone new to the family, he or she is to be hunted like an animal and be sacrificed by sunrise. Failure to do so would cost Le Domas their lives.
Newlywed Grace (Samara Weaving), still wearing her wedding gown, has no idea that the game they are about to play is about to turn deadly. She smiles sheepishly and awkwardly to the family members she so desperately wishes to be liked by. Most of them regard her with bloodlust; a few are more upfront about it than others. Meanwhile, Grace’s husband, Alex (Mark O’Brien), remains quiet about the bear trap that his wife just stepped into.
“Ready or Not” is an entertaining thriller infused with dark comic moments. It moves briskly from one point to another, trusting that the audience would catch up to it rather than feeling the need to explain after every step just so we are comfortable in its universe. It is self-aware of the genre, especially concept-driven thrillers, and so the screenwriters, Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy, actively look for opportunities to upend or skewer it. Particularly delicious are moments when characters, frustrated with the way the night is unfolding because everything appears to be going wrong, break their composed facade and go into rabid histrionics. Their suffering is our source of entertainment and yet, still, the material never comes across as mean.
Despite the murders and mayhem there is a joyous aftertaste to the film. Part of it can attributed to Weaving’s vibrant and enthralling performance as a woman who married into money. She is neither a damsel-in-distress nor a hardbodied Amazon; she sounds and feels like an ordinary person, a cool, sarcastic, good-natured chic you’d like to be friends and hang out with. Her face invites the viewer to stare at it because she is so beautiful and yet the performance commands no air of vanity—a strategy she employed, quite successfully, in “The Babysitter.” On the contrary, I relished the fact that the actor is more than willing to get down and dirty, to do whatever is necessary—silly faces and all—so that those watching can have an enjoyable time. She makes Grace easy to root for. I am interested to see Weaving in a comedy.
Part of it, too, is the direction by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. It could have been just another movie with a cool concept, a high body count, and not much else. Instead of emphasizing the violence, notice how the directors tend to underscore chases, evolving motivations, and creepy dialogue. It takes the time to regard portraits and weapons displayed on walls of the gothic mansion; how a room is lit a particular way; some of the participants’ bored expressions. Notice also it is rare when violence is shown overtly. Clearly, these filmmakers wish to invite us into this particular world, not to be repelled or disgusted by it like so many horror-thrillers do. However, it does not mean the work is low on gore.
“Ready or Not” has something to say about marriage: it is hard work, it can feel like prison at times, and it can be surprising in all the best and worst ways possible. I wished that the material had delved further into the fact that Grace, not hailing from a wealthy background and without a family, is marrying Alex, a man from a family that is not only rich, their name is a brand, a lifestyle, tradition. There are throwaway lines—especially when events get desperate—involving class and economic differences but most, if not all, are played for laughs. An extra dimension to the social commentary it broaches certainly would have elevated the material further. Still, it remains entertaining as is.