Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Stars: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Andie MacDowell
Throughout 2012’s past-lives cascade Cloud Atlas, a recurring phrase bounces into the mouths of some of its many characters; “The weak are meat, and the strong do eat.” It’s a neat catchphrase for the theme of exploitation coursing through the intermingled narratives. Ready Or Not – a gloriously OTT new horror artefact from creative team Radio Silence – doesn’t regurgitate this phrase, but it certainly brings it to mind as the film deconstructs the nefarious hunger of America’s super-rich.
The Le Domas clan aren’t cannibals; they don’t want to literally eat their prey, but prey they have.
Baby-faced son Alex (Mark O’Brien) is getting married at the vast family estate. His fiance is Grace (Samara Weaving); acerbic, dry-witted, daunted by the Old Money she’s marrying into. The Le Domases made their millions in gaming. Everything from board games to pro sports teams. But their wealth was bought in a pact with the devil. The price? New family members have to go through a cruel and bizarre initiation. Drawing from a mysterious old deck of cards, newcomers must play a game. That’s all. Unless it’s Hide And Seek…
Guess what Grace draws.
Insanely, drawing the Hide And Seek card means that she has to survive the night on the labyrinthine grounds as the Le Domas family try to kill her. Alex isn’t much a fan of this game, but the rest of this oddball bunch display varying degrees of enthusiasm, from resigned fatalism to mouth-watering glee. It’s going to be a long, long night…
Or not. Directing duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett make brisk work of this nutty premise. Ready Or Not quite gamely belts along. In the process it conjures many fond memories of Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard’s under-appreciated You’re Next. We have a plucky female lead who has enough gumption to take care of herself when its demanded of her. The rich family’s bickering is an overtly reminiscent touch. The setting is undeniably similar. And, above all else, Ready Or Not shares the gory and anarchic tone of You’re Next. This is grizzly fun with a glint in its eye.
The connection is hardly a surprise. Both Wingard and the Radio Silence team were significantly involved in found footage anthology V/H/S. Importantly, while I’ve underscored a great number of echoes, Ready Or Not successfully stands as a strong piece in its own right, carving out its own identity and intent.
That Grace (a ‘normal person’ in the eyes of the film) quickly becomes a play-thing for the privileged elite is a pointed reflection of the callousness that appears to come with wealth. The life of an average Joe becomes abstract, and far less meaningful than the protection of the established legacy. Self-importance breeds an almost pathological lack of empathy. Increasing the number of wealthy persons becomes a guarded risk, too, fraught with booby traps. Back-stabbing becomes inevitable. And those that serve are pretty much guaranteed to take the fall if it helps preserve the centre.
Picking this metaphor out of the movie isn’t exactly rocket science, but subtlety isn’t high on the agenda, either. Its existence as social commentary does bolster the film’s worth, however. I nearly kicked up that dreaded word ‘timely’, but patriarch Tony (Henry Czerny) leans heavily on the concept of tradition, reminding the audience that moral blindness and extreme wealth have rarely if ever successfully intermingled. As intimated, nor is Ready Or Not lazy enough to tar all with the same brush. The different family members exhibit varying levels of empathy for the plight of the downtrodden. But the ‘good’ among them sure are outnumbered…
They’re an entertaining bunch regardless of stance, and so they should be. This is a broad comedy piece, after all. Seeing Andie MacDowell in here is a surprise and a hoot, but there are plenty of giggle-worthy eccentricities on offer (Nicky Guadagni’s Aunt Helene is flat-out hysterical). Christmas with these guys must be like a trip to visit The Addams Family. Samara Weaving, meanwhile, makes Grace easy to root for, and she is certainly put through her paces. As her wedding gown grows more tattered and blood-splattered, she reconfigures it to fit her purpose. There’s even a wry moment of self-awareness when she drinks in her new look, acknowledging that it is – in spite of circumstances – quite something. Grace is the fiercest blood-splattered bride in memory.
There are other conversations going on here as well. America’s relationship with firearms, for one. Indoctrination and the normalising of extraordinary circumstances is another. Conversations that do make Ready Or Not pointedly – ugh – relevant in 2019. That these things have been thought about and brought to the table shouldn’t be overlooked. Horror has always been a fearless genre, in this regard. Ready Or Not isn’t scary, but it is angry. Good. While not quite in the leagues of your all-time classics, that fierceness ought not be taken for granted. Terrific fun with a grudge worth holding.