Grace is a picture of beauty as she prepares to be married to Alex in “Ready or Not,” a new horror film from Fox Searchlight Pictures. Little does she know she’s about to step into a nightmare unlike any she’s imagined.
You see, when it came to selecting a husband, Grace chose poorly. Not that there’s anything wrong with Alex. He’s handsome, old money rich and a nice guy to boot. But there are issues with his family.
A few generations ago, Alex’s great-great-grandfather struck a deal with the devil that made him and his descendants rich. There was just one catch: The members of the family must play a game with anyone who marries one of their relatives the night of the wedding – or die a messy death.
On the surface, the game seems harmless. The newcomer pulls a card containing the name of a game from a strange box. It could be checkers, backgammon or any other innocuous diversion. After playing, he or she officially becomes a member of the family.
There’s one more catch, though: If the bride or groom pulls the Hide and Seek card, they must hide in the mansion as the family hunts them down and tries to kill them before dawn.
If the family succeeds, they’ll continue to enjoy the benefits of their deal with the evil one. If they fail, then the family does a Jiffy Pop impression – one bloody kernel at a time.
It’s a goofy concept, but the filmmakers know it’s goofy and never take it seriously, resulting in a horror movie that’s more darkly comedic than scary.
Okay, maybe it’s not funny when Alex’s sister accidentally shoots a maid in the mouth with a medieval crossbow, but the moment is played for laughs and works in a shocking, so-awful-it’s-hilarious kind of way. The family’s ineptitude with ancient weaponry becomes a running joke, so if you don’t laugh the first time, you’ll get more chances.
If you don’t like the farcical tone of “Ready or Not,” then its other glaring problems will probably annoy you, too. For starters, the filmmakers don’t do anything clever with the concept of playing a life-or-death game of hide and seek, despite establishing early on that the family’s mansion is riddled with secret passages.
For that matter, co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett fail to visually capture the scale of the house, which leaves viewers to imagine its scope. If “Ready or Not” was filmed on a soundstage, then this might have been a budgetary issue, but either way, the film feels smaller than it should, given how filthy rich the family is.
Then there’s the matter of Grace’s incessant screaming. Granted, she gets herself in a pickle more than once, but when you’re trying to hide from a family of homicidal nut cases, is it ever OK to shriek at the top of your lungs?
Grace does this several times – and pays for it each time – so I’m assuming this was intentional. Maybe the filmmakers thought this was the only way the audience would understand she’s not having the wedding night of her dreams.
Fortunately, “Ready or Not” is not a wash. Every time the script stumbles or the direction lacks imagination, the cast picks up the slack.
Samara Weaving excels as Grace. Even though the movie doesn’t take itself seriously, Grace takes her predicament very seriously, and watching Weaving react to the insanity of Grace’s situation and steel herself for battle is fun. Grace doesn’t always make the best choice, but in Weaving’s hands, she’s a smart, resourceful hero who earns the audience’s sympathy.
Weaving is so good in “Ready or Not,” if you lifted her performance out of the movie and placed it within an Oscar-caliber film, I believe she’d be an awards contender.
Andie MacDowell is another standout among the mostly excellent cast. Maybe it’s because she’s playing against type as Alex’s mother, but I found her to be quite menacing. When she smiles, her eyes don’t, which is an especially good trick.
I don’t want to oversell “Ready or Not.” As a genre, horror is moving away from high concept films like this and toward elevated, socially contemplative movies like “Us” and “Get Out.” But as popcorn entertainment, it has value, and there are worse things you could do with your time – like marry the wrong family.