Ready or Not (United States, 2019)

August 20, 2019
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Ready or Not Poster

Ready or Not can be described as the fusion of dark comedy with the Grand Guignol. Unafraid to venture into cinematic taboo territory for its shocks and laughs, the movie doesn’t have many sacred cows. It’s the kind of thing we might have gotten if Monty Python had made a gothic-tinged horror movie. Its offbeat, unconventional approach to the genre (and its ability to stretch out a thin premise to feature length) toes a line somewhere between a Coen Brothers production and something from Blumhouse.

Although the concept is unapologetically simplistic, the narrative offers its share of surprises. There are times when the story progresses as expected but, on other occasions, it defies predictability. And, more often than not, those twists are associated with big laughs. The movie isn’t afraid to make fun of itself, its premise, or its characters. There’s an ongoing question about whether there’s something supernatural at work or whether the Le Domas clan is comprised of a bunch of materialistic, gullible sociopaths. Co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (working from a screenplay credited to Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy) keep us guessing until the end.

Marrying into the Le Domas clan has its perks. Chief among those are wealth beyond the dreams of avarice and a luxurious lifestyle. There are drawbacks as well. Following the wedding ceremony, the new member of the family must draw a card and play whatever game it calls for. Chess, checkers, parcheesi, croquet – those are all safe choices. The one card the newcomer absolutely, positively does not want to get is “Hide & Seek.” The Le Domas’ take that game seriously. The “seekers” come armed with guns, knives, axes, and crossbows and, if the “hider” can’t stay free until dawn, a quick and permanent divorce awaits.

Unfortunately for Grace (Samara Weaving), the card she picks after marrying the youngest of the Le Domas sons, Alex (Mark O’Brien), is “Hide & Seek.” At first, she thinks it’s just a harmless game – a silly tradition not unlike ones that many old families have. After all, who could imagine her new in-laws, Tony (Henry Czernay) and Becky (Andie MacDowell), being involved in anything underhanded? Alex’s brother, Daniel (Adam Brody), seems genuinely fond of her, even if he is drunk most of the time. The rest of the family is affable, except perhaps Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadgni), whose black gaze could kill at ten paces. Once the hiding and seeking begins, it becomes apparent that the activity is in deadly earnest and, if Grace wants to survive, she’s going to have to flip the tables and make the hunted the hunter.

Tonally, Ready or Not recalls Bad Times at the El Royale, although this movie doesn’t suffer the earlier film’s complete third-act collapse. The production is more effective as a comedy than a horror film, although it includes enough gore to appease those who demand such things. One scene in particular (involving a nail, although I’ll say no more) may cause sensitive viewers to turn away. There’s also a grotesque scene in a charnel pit. But Ready or Not makes its bones with its sometimes inappropriate, often tongue-in-cheek humor. It also uses Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” to good (and memorable) effect.

Although Blumhouse wasn’t involved in the production, the filmmakers have taken a leaf from the successful horror studio’s low-budget, no-frills approach. The directing team, although recognized in horror circles primarily for their shorts and contributions to anthology films, are unknowns when it comes to wide releases. Ready or Not features no big names in the cast – the most familiar are Andie MacDowell and Henry Czernay. Lead actress Samara Weaving bears an uncanny resemblance to Margot Robbie, right down to the look of steely determination she wears when she straps a bandolier around her neck and cocks a shotgun. (It may not play out as expected but it’s a great image.)

Ready or Not’s late-August release date takes the pressure off its need to perform well at the box office to be considered a success. The film’s low profile makes it one of the summer’s best hidden surprises and it should please those who revel in the horror/comedy genre. The movie loses steam during the final half-hour – after all, there’s only so much one can do with a premise this limited – but there’s enough in the 95 minutes of gory fun to prod inclined viewers to respond to the title with a hearty “Here I come!”

Ready or Not (United States, 2019)

Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 2019-08-21
MPAA Rating: "R" (Grisly Violence, Gore, Profanity)
Genre: Horror/Comedy
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1