“This is an efficiently self-contained movie that takes us on a brisk, intelligent, and immensely enjoyable ride.”
by Ken Bakely
Really, it’s just nice to know that a movie like Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Ready or Not exists. This is a relentlessly over-the-top and still admirably controlled movie. Its robust scripting foundations combine with its silly humor, committed performances, and comically excessive gore to create an assured final result that breezes through to deliver something confidently entertaining. Set in a cavernous, delightfully atmospheric old mansion, the film serves as a pretty direct commentary on the irrational, reactionary fear that many wealthy default to, whenever there is any remote criticism of their socioeconomic dominance. And there’s no more direct way to convey this message than by giving these rich characters a literally deadly intent. Here, the intended victim of their rage is Grace (Samara Weaving), a woman from a hardscrabble background who has just married Alex (Mark O’Brien), a member of the old money Le Domas family. Grace’s in-laws are an eccentric bunch with mixed opinions of her, but things hardly seem out of the ordinary until her wedding night, when, in a strange twist of fate and family tradition, she is thrust into a lethal situation, in which the Le Domases push her into a game of hide-and-seek across their sprawling estate. The catch is that if she’s caught, she will be killed, and for particularly complicated reasons, many of the family members, including patriarch Tony (Henry Czerny), are convinced that murdering her is their solemn duty for survival. From here, the film launches into a whirlwind series of wildly violent (and violently wild) twists and turns, as Grace tries to survive the mayhem.
It’s a delight to watch this all unfold, as Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillet take us through the genre thrills and absurd comedy of the entire ordeal. While Grace is a capable heroine, there’s also much attention given to the bumbling foolishness of her would-be captors; it’s hard to ignore the implications of this depiction of an upper class who scrambles without aim or purpose, driven by nothing else than a furious desire to keep every last drop of their status and privilege firmly in their hands. They bear archaic weapons in their search and insist that their duty to kill Grace is based on adherence to a traditionalist mindset. The mere idea of abandoning it conjures existential fear. Even when other members of the family express doubt, it’s just as likely that they’ll revert to the murderous mean if they realize that the alternative would inconvenience them. There’s a lot going on here, but Ready or Not keeps things going with a quick pace and a steady rhythm. Screenwriters Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy succeed in crafting this messy world through a sharp and knowing understanding of how everything might play in relation to each other. Accompanying this are the game performances of its cast, from a stupendous Weaving in the lead role, to a round of solid supporting members. Special mention should be given to Andie McDowell as Becky, Grace’s new mother-in-law; while the character’s involvement in the story moves through several surprise shifts, she represents as much as anyone else here, the mix of humor and straightfaced commitment to the material.
And while there are times that the film moves so far, so fast that it’s almost a bit befuddling to keep track of it all, it’s to its considerable credit that we’re so often completely dialed in. It could have been easy for some component of its packed plate to be lacking, but while there’s little here that proves truly transcendent, everything operates at a strong level to begin with. Even as things build to a head in the third act, culminating at a screamingly funny and unexpected finale, the message and soul of the material never gets lost. This is an efficiently self-contained movie that takes us on a brisk, intelligent, and immensely enjoyable ride. Its elements support each other with great sturdiness: the social commentary is necessary to energize the horror, which drives the darkly comedic core that feeds everything back, letting it all go down easily. Sure, the basic plot structure plays as another iteration of a formula that’s well-trodden, and their are few surprises to be had. Yet Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett recognize the familiar roots of this story, and give it a sheen that’s sharper and stranger than we might have ever thought to expect. In totality, the movie represents a tightly connected achievement all its own, which never second guesses or doubles back. There’s a lot that can be worked with just from that kind of spirit, and Ready or Not aims to please with its snappy, bruising, and endearingly restless energy.