Tag: samara weaving

Ready or Not


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.

The Babysitter


The Babysitter (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

“The Babysitter,” directed by McG and based on the screenplay by Brian Duffield, is particularly difficult for me to review because I acknowledge that it offers a few laughs, the two leading performances are highly watchable, and the premise involving a preteen’s discovery that his babysitter is actually a part of a Satanic cult is so wild, I was excited how the story is going to take shape. But without a shadow of doubt, the film belongs under the category of children-in-danger movies, and it is most unfortunate that it keeps the protagonist under constant torment—so constant that right from the opening scene this boy is already being terrorized at school.

Children-in-peril pictures can work given a sharp, intelligent writing that functions as commentary. For example, it can tackle the subject of young people being so sheltered that modern parenting is essentially training future adults to constantly demand being in a safe space. In my opinion, children-in-peril movies rarely work as a straightforward horror-thriller, or even as a horror-comedy, because there is a tendency toward fetishizing not only the violence or gore but also our expectation that a child must not be harmed or mutilated in any way. In other words, films that generate thrills solely through the guise of the audience not wanting to a child being hurt can be considered as lowest hanging fruit.

And so throughout the film, I constantly had to ask myself what the material is saying behind the superficial entertainment. I found none. I suppose one can claim that the story is about a twelve-year-old, who is pretty much afraid of everything, being forced to to find courage in himself to stand up against bullies. But that is a stretch because the villains in the film, members of the Satanic cult (Robbie Amell, Hana Mae Lee, Bella Thorne, Andrew Bachelor), are purposefully written as walking stereotypes.

In real life, bullies are more than archetypes and in order for the film to have meaning beyond the images on screen, the writing must command depth and subtlety. Those who dare to compare this film, for example, to Joss Whedon’s writing (“The Cabin in the Woods,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel”) clearly have little to no understanding about why Whedon’s works possess cultural relevance. They aren’t just post-modern, have quirky premises, or tapping into zeitgeist. They are genuinely saying something beyond what we see and experience on screen. These works care about teenagers and young adults.

It is too bad because I really enjoyed the central performances here. Samara Weaving as Bee the babysitter reminded me at times of Margot Robbie’s ability to go from warmly intrigued to sexually electric, while Judah Lewis as Cole the fearful adolescent brought back flashes of Corey Haim in the underrated 1986 coming-of-age picture “Lucas.” A standout scene in the picture is a dramatic moment when Cole reveals to Bee that he feels such a weirdo at times that, essentially, he feels helpless in his own skin. This is such a moving scene that I wished the movie had been about the bond between the sitter and the preteen, completely throwing out the wacky chases, over-the-top gore, and absurd resolution.

The horror-comedy will certainly entertain some, but those looking for a more substantial story and character development with smart decisions throughout are best advised to stay away. And because of the title, it must be stated outright that “The Babysitter” is not at all a successful throwback to late-‘70s and ’80s slashers. There is no suspense to be had here.