READY OR NOT

I adore horror, thriller, and dark comedy films, but it’s not often because of the strengths of their screenplays. Their scripts are definitely good enough to bring the goods, but most of the fun is brought on by the director’s atmosphere and pacing, the composer’s music, and the actors performances. It’s not every day when a horror-thriller-dark comedy is lackluster in the technical sense, but has one of the sharpest genre scripts in recent history. 

Grace (Samara Weaving) is marrying into the wealthy Le Domas Gaming Dominion. In order to be accepted into this new family, the new spouse is forced to play an initiation game. Grace randomly chooses hide and seek, but it’s not your normal version of the game. Grace doesn’t just need to hide, but survive, as the family begins to hunt her down with crossbows and axes. Trapped in their massive estate, Grace is forced to run, hide, and fight in order to survive the night. Ready or Not, here they come! 

This is a premise that has three things I love: crazy families, people being trapped in one place and trying to survive, and badass women being sprayed with blood. This is the kind of film that executes it all nearly flawlessly. We have a plot structure that’s not wholly original, but the premise and overall story is definitely unique. The is a truly psychotic, messed up family here, but you understand why they’re so demented. They come from a long line of family tradition where they genuinely think they will die if they don’t kill Grace by dawn. Through just scenes of them interacting with each other, we get enough background information on their history, as well as some surprisingly deft characterization. Every family member feels completely developed, and more importantly, unique. They all have their own distinct personalities, motivations, and ways of looking at the events that unfold around them. What sells the whole “family” angle is that the family actually feels like a real family. The way the father coddles his spoiled failure of a daughter whenever she screws up, or the motherly love a woman can have for their son and his wife, feeling guilty about the whole ordeal. 

While some of them may be sympathetic, they all share one thing in common: their nonchalant attitude about death. Some of the estate’s maids meet some untimely demises, but who cares? Just chuck their bodies in the pit out back and get back to hunting! It’s hilarious whenever anybody dies, because it’s perfectly timed and often completely unexpected, all with gratuitous gore to boot! The screenplay is super clever with how it sets up the scenario and crafts the characters. Once the game begins and Grace is hiding and running throughout the house, it’s nothing but taut suspense, hilarious dark comedy, and increasingly rising stakes. Just like her, you never really feel safe, especially when you never know where somebody’s true motivations lie. Unfortunately, the film isn’t as exciting on the visual front, with rather pedestrian camera movements and uninspired lighting. This could come from directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s background in found footage films. Those are obviously incredibly different beasts from your traditional films, and I don’t think their skills there translated well here. 

While the screenplay is incredibly sharp, there are some shortcomings here and there that prevents this from becoming a true over-the-top crowd pleaser. While all of the family characters feel fully fleshed out, our main character Grace felt unfortunately flat. Luckily, we have Samara Weaving, who gives a powerhouse performance that escalates from calm and sweet to crazy and intense. She puts herself through some painful misery in order to survive, complete with terrifying, animalistic screams. Her completely serious character is a perfect contrast to the rest of the family, which gives us a good balance of genuine thrills and genuine dark comedy. Although it would have been nice for her to give the family a more satisfying comeuppance. There’s some ultraviolence-filled fun here and there, but it’s mostly just her knocking people out and running away. I got a lot of shades of You’re Next with this film, so I was hoping it would reach those heights, but it never quite did. 

Despite some missed opportunities and bland direction, Ready or Not gets by with its sharp, witty script and game performances from all involved. The concept is totally absurd, but everyone here knows it and has fun with it. It’s certainly been a great year for genre films, with a lot of well made, mid to high budget B-movies being released every month. Filmmakers who grew up with schlock are finally here to bring their favorite genres to life, but with one key ingredient: quality. 

8.5/10

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