Ready or Not turns hide-and-seek into a gruesome and giddy parable about income inequality… and a justified case of wedding jitters.
The rich are just different, you know? This is an assertion stated as if it were a badge of honor by one of the Le Domas in Ready or Not. And given that this wealthiest of families made their fortune from game hunting, shrewd business practices, and the occasional human sacrifice to Old Scratch, we’re inclined to agree. There is something quite off about these folks.
As a movie that intends to speak to our times (and likely any other) of extreme income inequality, Ready or Not is a gonzo bloodbath about the most thrilling round of hide and seek you’ve ever seen, one where the stakes are life, death, and eternal damnation… maybe? It’s not really clear on that last bit since even members of the Le Domas doubt the family history about a deal with the Devil, but their dedication to carrying on with tradition creates a horror-comedy rife with political allegory that’s as pointed as the axe used to remove a maid’s head. Yet it’s when the movie revels in this gruesome giddiness, as opposed to commenting directly on privilege, that Ready or Not makes a far better investment in becoming a budding cult classic.
Set on the the best and worst day of Grace’s life, we find the bride-to-be a little apprehensive about her dream wedding in a remote manor. Played with a discreetly wounded excitement by Samara Weaving, Grace has never been one for big family gatherings. So when she apparently proposed marriage to her beau Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), she probably didn’t realize that his wealthy family insists that all Le Domas weddings be formal affairs on their ancestral grounds. In fact, there is a lot Alex didn’t tell Grace. For instance, every time the Le Domas add a new member to their family via marriage, they are required by a deal their 19th century forebearer struck to play a game selected by a box of chance. In most instances, this leads to an awkward but harmless evening of “Old Maid” with the in-laws. Grace isn’t so lucky.
She pulls the one game card that no Le Domas wants to play, but most eagerly accept the terms of. It’s a version of hide-and-seek where, in the case of Grace, the bride must stay hidden until dawn or be sacrificed to Satan by her in-laws, who include dapper father Tony (Henry Czerny), intimidating mother Becky (Andie MacDowell), and a slew of overly friendly brothers and sister-in-laws, the only one of whom Grace likes is Daniel (Adam Brody), the sardonic underachiever. Of course none of them tell Grace they’re hunting her for sport; she just kind of figures that out after 1800s revolvers and crossbows start firing in her general direction. Once the fateful card is drawn, Alex alone stands by his wife and tries to help her escape the estate, but let’s just say the groom has a lot of explaining to do if she survives this night.
Obviously there is something to be said about Ready or Not being released in the same month that the release of Blumhouse Productions’ The Hunt was indefinitely cancelled. Without having seen the latter film, it is hard to compare, but one clever advantage for Ready or Not—besides a lack of bad faith complaining on cable news—is it coyly plays its premise to the hilt as dark horror-comedy. Like every other film about idle, wealthy sportsmen turned murderers in the last 90 years, this movie stands on the shoulders of The Most Dangerous Game wherein innocent audience avatars are drawn into the cruel amusements of the rich and resentful.
It doesn’t take an intersectional thinkpiece to see the symbolism in blue bloods stalking anyone not born into a fellow aristocratic house. There is always that distaste between new and old money, or worse those suspicious interlopers with none all; as Tom Buchanan once boasted to Jay Gatsby, “We were born different, it’s in our blood.” These themes are so above the surface in Ready or Not that they practically exist at a different altitude, sometimes winningly so when it’s hinted that the Le Domas are far from the only family to have climbed so high by selling their souls.
The notable drawback here is that in its determination to make Grace’s wrathful strike back against the elite as gleefully brutal as possible, we don’t really get to spend a whole lot of time with her new kin in their natural habitat. While we see them pick up old-fashioned weapons to stare Grace down, more time is spent establishing their four-letter disdain for this game when there could’ve been meaner wickedness to this vicious sendup. General Zaroff is the best character in The Most Dangerous Game, but the Le Domas are so broad that it’s only the basest level of joy when Grace eventually starts running them down during her attempted escapes.
Fortunately, Samara Weaving is on hand to land those moments with the precision of a markswoman. Little is done on the script page to explicitly establish Grace’s hesitation about marrying into the elite, but Weaving brings a wearied vulnerability to the eventually blood spattered bride that makes her resilience all the more rewarding as she paints another layer of red on white. Having previously been able to steal scenes from the likes of John Hawkes and Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Weaving effortlessly keeps all eyes on her during this protracted wedding ceremony that puts her in situations that range from darkly comical to grindhouse grisly.
Also standing out among the supporting cast is Adam Brody, who takes the role of the n’er-do-well brother who always has a drink in his hand and finds the lone bit of depth among the Le Domas. In the best stuff he’s done in ages, Brody makes Daniel both intolerably ineffectual and bemusing as he sympathizes enough with Grace and his younger brother to not truly hunt her—yet won’t won’t lift a finger as the madness mounts unless it’s to pour another glass.
And that cinematic craziness really does reach a glorious crescendo. Directed with a deft hand by Matt Bettinelli-Oplin and Tyler Gillett, two members of Radio Silence, Ready or Not is always lighthearted and ingratiating, suggesting a confidence that outpaces their previous effort in Devil’s Due. Setting a disarming mood of Gothic playfulness, they continue to ratchet up the set-pieces and gags until the third act goes full bananas, elevating the whole enterprise. The film already had a premise that was born on third base, but by exploring every potential twisty avenue, the filmmakers craft an ending that leaves prey, predator, and audience breathless.
There might be a few stumbles in the brush here and there in the build-up, but the prize this movie walks away with, right up to its final killer line, is sure to be proudly displayed by a certain type of horror aficionado on their wall for some time to come. Happy hunting, indeed.