Woke horror-thrillers appear to be the thing of the moment after the successes of Get Out and Us, and the new Ready Or Not plays off a lot of similar concepts and narrative structure in this comedic take on a classic slasher film.
Grace (Samara Weaving) is the doting new bride of Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), a family member of the wealthy Le Domas family whom Grace describes as “richer than God”, of whom made their millions by creating board games. Since Grace is an orphan she is longing to be integrated into the family and truly belong. But there are a few key members who seem to grate with her: Alex’s mother Becky (Andie MacDowell) isn’t enthusiastically approving, his brother Daniel (Adam Brody) is an alcoholic with his eyes on Grace, the father Tony (Henry Czerny) disapproving of her status and aunty Helene (Nicky Guadagni) with her terrifying presence. It’s a wild grouping of individuals, but Grace sees tying the knot as the closing of the courtship and official a Le Domas family member. But alas, it is not the end as Alex tells her that there is one last family ritual: a game that has to be played. As she learns, the family made its money from a connection with another traveler many years ago and this is the tradition to keep the family going. Grace pulls “Hide and Seek” from the box and as she finds a place to hide out, the family weaponise themselves and seek her out intending to kill her, not that she knows.
There’s lots to like about Ready Or Not. Weaving is an incredible actress and plays the role to perfection. Her fortitude is palpable and it’s a killer performance (literally). She comes out of her shell, slowly and her acting mimics her character development perfectly. Brody is also very strong here, showing off his acting chops. Another shining light is Kristian Bruun as sister Emilie’s husband Fitch, who brings the laughs at every scene. MacDowell, Czerny and O’Brien are all solid, but not as fleshed out characters for much to be remembered. Overall there could have been more meat for the actors to work with. It’s great but not amazing, and that bit more of character could have taken it to that next level.
At times there are sequences that verge on the overly simplified: Grace seen in her wedding dress with a rifle and ammunition placed perfectly across her body is a signature look for the film, but also visually you can tell the directors are relying too much on these moments to inspire confidence in the main character. “She’s a badass”, it makes you think, but also it’s a bit lame considering the scene that follows. Yes she’s fighting back against privilege and entitlement, but where is the “so what?”. Where is the punch beyond that?
Of course much of the comedy centers on Grace being the odd one out, seeing this insanity from this wealthy family and how far one will go to preserve their money and life. It “others” the wealthy family and mocks them for their ways – not that I’m saying it’s a bad thing – but at times it’s a joke that plays out too many times. Yes, it’s funny how “the rich” are with their commitment to money that they’d kill, but it doesn’t go beyond this. Even more so is the accidental killing of the family’s three maids, which becomes a running joke, gets tiresome after some time.
It’s a subversive film that balances the crowd pleasing and the witty to a strong effect and most certainly one of the best horror films of the year ideal for Halloween time. It struggles with the satire and with its political messaging, resorting to cheap laughs towards the end and leaving the viewer with a barely funny joke that appeals to many, but isn’t very thought out. The cast could have been provided with better to rise to the occasion but even then Weaving makes the film. It’s a fun romp that thrilling and sarcastic in equal measure with enough charisma to please even thriller film haters.
Give Samara Weaving her own Hollywood movie now as she shines on screen at every shot. It’s smart and funny. It has the cultural critique that is growing in cinema but doesn’t overcompensate it at the risk of not creating a crowd pleasing film.
A bit more opportunities for the characters to be fleshed out could have resulted in funnier moments and a script with more bite.
Originally published on Back Row, 24 October 2019.