FILM REVIEW – READY OR NOT. With Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell. Written by Guy Busick, Ryan Murphy. Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett. Rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughout, and some drug use. 95 minutes.
READY OR NOT is that annual movie tradition: the late summer surprise. There’s usually some film that comes out of nowhere in late August that stands out after months of sequels, remakes, and tentpole movies. It’s an original, providing plenty of bloody thrills for the horror fans and some dark satire for those wanting something more.
It’s the wedding day of Grace (Samara Weaving) and Alex (Mark O’Brien). Alex has been estranged from his family, but now is welcomed back by at least some members of the LeDomas clan who have built a fortune on their gaming empire or, as Alex calls it, their “dominion.” Not everyone is happy to see Grace, but Alex’s mother (Andie MacDowell) thanks her for bringing her son home.
That evening Grace is introduced to a family tradition: the new addition has to play a game selected at random from a special box. It’s not a spoiler – indeed, it’s the basis for all the advertising for the film – to note that Grace discovers she is to be the prey in a deadly game of hide and seek. Once set in motion, the bulk of the story is Grace trying to stay alive while Alex’s father (Henry Czerny) reminds the family that they must get her by dawn or succumb to a lethal bargain made by an ancestor.
The filmmakers have several things going for them. As a horror film the details freshen up an old plot of the innocent young woman fending off violent attacks. Here we get the wealthy LeDomas family, still formally dressed, stalking Grace with rifles, a crossbow, and even a battle-ax. While they are deadly serious, they’re also not especially adept and accidents happen. It’s not for the squeamish.
Then there’s the satiric element which can hardly be called “subtext.” Anyone who has ever married into a family and tried to fit in will relate to Grace’s problem, from those members who consider her an interloper to those couples where the one who married into the family is more invested in tradition than the person there by birth. Likewise, Alex is torn between love for his bride and loyalty to his family. In some ways, this is covering the same ground – albeit in a horror context – as last year’s “Crazy Rich Asians.”
Finally, there’s Samara Weaving. Bearing a striking resemblance to another Australian actress, Margot Robbie, Weaving bears the weight of the film. If we’re not rooting for her, the film doesn’t work. She successfully conveys fear, growing strength in fighting back, and continuing incredulity at not only the family’s insanity, but that her groom did nothing to warn her in advance.
The film’s payoff is unexpected, a capstone to what’s come before, and leads to a perfect final moment. “Ready Or Not” will not win over a non-horror fans, but for those who can enjoy the genre, it’s a welcome addition to this summer’s movie season.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.