It’s hard meeting your partner’s family for the first time. Will they like you? Will they accept you as part of the family alongside the person you love? Will they try to hunt you down like you’re the world’s most dangerous game?
Grace (Samara Weaving) is marrying into the obscenely wealthy Le Domas family, who built their fortune and name on games and sports franchises. On the night of her wedding, her new husband Alex (Mark O’Brien) tells her that it’s family tradition to play a game at midnight when a new person joins the family. When the game turns out to be a deadly variation on Hide and Seek, Grace finds herself in a desperate fight for survival and discovers that the game itself is part of a secret ritual that will cause Very Bad Things to happen if she manages to live until sunrise. In-laws, am I right?
Ready Or Not is a film that lives on its hook and marketing pitch but in the best ways possible. It’s a lean, tightly-plotted, wickedly-comedic thriller that uses its premise to stealthily touch on relevant social issues without ever getting too deep into itself. It’s a bit of an outsider in a way; a strange bit of grindhouse-informed genre spectacle that somehow managed to get itself into mainstream theatres.
Again, that shouldn’t be taken as a negative. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett know their way around a good thrill. As part of the collective Radio Silence, they made the best segment of the first V/H/S anthology. They keep the film grounded and well-paced, balancing the fear and gore perfectly and realistically. They avoid elaborate set pieces, aiming for a more sustained and consistent flow. It’s an energy that’s immediate and almost first-person, running along with Grace from scene to scene.
Frankly, it’s Grace that makes this movie as effective as it is. Samara Weaving is a perfect Final Girl with her approachable charisma and natural vulnerability. The film avoids turning Grace into a total badass, allowing Grace the luxury of being fully human and far more relatable. We feel instantly drawn to Grace and want her to succeed, and Weaving’s unassuming take on the character works wonderfully. She comes off as your best friend who just happens to look a lot like Margot Robbie.
However, the film is so focused on the very present tense of its action that we get very little decent backstory on any of the characters. The script largely avoids inorganic exposition, but it also doesn’t give most of the characters more than a handful of demonstrable traits, so we never really get to know any of them. The one exception seems to be Andie McDowell’s Becky, the Le Domas matriarch, who’s also the only character besides Alex to have any significant interactions with Grace before the game starts. McDowell takes a casually serious approach to her role, one that clearly respects the character and story itself while also seeming effortless.
But this is a film that isn’t so much about the characters but about using those characters to generate tight thrills and dark laughs, usually at the same time. There’s a degree of absurdity not only to the premise itself but also to its execution. It’s entirely on purpose, of course, and the film never comes off as campy. Everybody involved knows what kind of movie they’ve signed up for, and they’re all totally here for it.
There’s also a surprising amount of relevant cultural discussion in the film’s short run time, cleverly hidden among all the impalements, chase scenes, and ominous string chords. In many ways, the film mainly takes aim at the 1% and the cultural divide between the super-elite and the common person. It’s implied that the ritual the game is part of is required to keep the Le Domas family’s money and power intact, and it becomes terrifyingly clear that they’re willing to do anything at all to hold on to what they’ve got. Especially if that means stomping on the little people to do it.
Although that in and of itself leads to a fair amount of amusing take-thats, as well. Part of the reason Grace has a fighting chance in this game is because the Le Domases are, quite frankly, awful at killing people. It’s mentioned that Hide and Seek hasn’t been played as the ritual game in 30 years, and there’s a great deal of humor in realizing that people who haven’t washed their own dishes in that same amount of time now must get their hands very, very dirty. Except for the Cruella de Vil-goes-Prada Aunt Helene, who takes to the game with a deliciously wicked zeal, the Le Domases are better at causing collateral damage than anything else.
That doesn’t mean Grace has it easy. Part of the appeal of the film is seeing Grace face all of the film’s challenges, both mundane and ridiculous. If this was a cake walk for her, the film wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. Grace is a survivor more than she is a survivalist, and she has to navigate a scenario where nobody can be trusted and everything could be a death trap. The tight direction combined with Samara Weaving’s organic performance makes the film grab you by the hand and drag you along for Grace’s wild ride.
Viscerally entertaining, with plenty of macabre humor and surprisingly thoughtful moments, Ready Or Not is an unpretentious bit of bloody fun. It’s true what they say; meeting the in-laws can be absolute hell. Literally.
FBOTU Score: 8 out of 10 / B+