'Ready or Not' film review: Wickedly fun horror comedy takes aim at the elites
Yes, someone finally made a hide-and-seek movie -- and its simplicity belies the fact that the horror-comedy "Ready or Not" (opening in theaters Aug. 21) is a gleefully evil, sharp and joyfully entertaining ride.
In short: Newlywed Grace's (Samara Weaving) wedding night becomes a fight for her life when her wealthy in-laws force her to play a lethal game of hide-and-seek. Adam Brody, Mark O'Brien, Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell.
"Ready or Not" is as straightforward as movie plots come: Grace must hide. If she's caught by her new in-laws, then they kill her. The fun of "Ready" is how devilishly committed it is to this simple plot - but its low-key brilliance is how the film fills in the world around Grace, the family she married into and why they're playing this extremely warped game at all.
The major hurdle of "Ready" is justifying why a super wealthy family of one-percent elites would hunt a new bride with antique guns, axes and other archaic implements of death. They have everything to lose and they apparently welcome Grace into their family with a warm embrace, yet they still end up playing a game that is supposed to end in her death. A lesser film would have turned the family into a vacant, cult-like brood of creepy monsters (making it easier to understand why they'd play this game - but robbing them of agency). Thankfully, "Ready" doesn't just drop a line or two of exposition - it spends the rest of the movie playing in this space of antagonists struggling with some internal conflict.
Without giving away any spoilers, Grace's in-laws are not just cartoonish sadists filled with an insatiable bloodlust - they're actually woefully, refreshingly bad at the whole "track down and kill a victim" game. They're the types of people who google "how to load a crossbow" or text their besties while stalking an innocent victim through a cavernous mansion. And not all of them are totally sold on the idea of playing in the game -- but some believe they have as much to lose by not playing as they do if they play this twisted version of hide-and-seek.
This raises the point of "why" Grace's new in-laws would be totally willing to butcher their new daughter/sister-in-law. Some family members believe something vague but extremely terrible will befall the family if they don't play. And even here, the various family members harbor varying degrees of belief - some are zealots, while others are doubtful ... but not skeptical enough to not play. The willingness of privileged rich folk to play a game at all makes the family perhaps the most interesting aspect of "Ready or Not." Yes, this film is an exciting and brutally violence romp -- but it's the wavering commitment of the various in-laws that keeps the film exciting. A lingering dread hangs over the film, pushing the antagonists to do terrible acts - with the distinct possibility that their beliefs might just be total bullshit.
The concept of a hide-and-seek slasher could have easily tilted toward the absurdly silly or exceedingly graphic violence porn - but "Ready or Not" finds the perfect balance between the two tones. The comedy comes from the lack of respect the family has for their blood-soaked traditions - but the grim stakes come from their total willingness to commit unspeakable horrors. The film makes audience fall in love with Grace - and "Ready" establishes that (reluctant or otherwise) her in-laws are totally willing to put a crossbow dart in her head. The wry, grim humor says more about the entitled, pampered wealthy family relative blasé attitude toward the rapidly escalating bloodshed. Most of them are more put off by the need to dispose bodies rather then being horrified by the extreme violence.
Let it be known that Samara Weaving is among the top contenders for bad-ass film characters of 2019. Grace is as lovely as she is a decisive and strong character thrust into a total nightmare. The role isn't just "girl running away from bad guys" - Grace is smart, strong-willed and increasingly willing to do what it takes to survive the game. Her transformation from radiant bride to savage survivalist is the engine of this bloody ride.
Final verdict: Anchored by a breakout lead performance and fleshed out with a compelling lot of supporting characters, "Ready or Not" is fun and bloody slasher winner.
"Ready or Not" now playing in theaters nationwide. The horror thriller has a running time of 95 minutes and is rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughout, and some drug use.