READY OR NOT (2019)
Directed by Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett)
I previously saw Ready or Not at FrightFest and loved it, finding it a perfect marriage between bloody horror and black comedy. Now it’s on general release, and possibly at a cinema near you: catch it if you can. I’m glad to say it loses nothing on repeat viewing and actually seems even smarter. It’s the second feature from the movie-making duo Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett) and represents a vast step-up from the fairly generic found footage Due Date. It’s also probably my favourite big release horror of the year. At least ‘til my appointment with Doctor Sleep.
We open with a wedding. Grace and Alex are tying the knot at the estate of his “moderately fucked up” family. They’re a bit of an odd couple, with her being an orphan who then lost her poor foster parents, and being desperate for a new clan, while he turned his back on his for years. It’s not hard to see why since they’re the 1% embodied: the kinds of people who have servants’ corridors in their manner-house and say things like “I can’t fly commercial – it’s the worst”. Oh, and they have some weird traditions. Having made their money through manufacturing board games, they like to have new members play with them on midnight after the ceremony. Normally it’s just round of harmless Chess or something called Old Maid. But when Grace is asked to draw her card, she and ends up with the only bad: Hide and Seek. Only in this version of the game the hunters are armed (with centuries-old weapons) and need to maim her by midnight to kill her in a blood sacrifice. Otherwise, according to their superstitions, something bad happens. Nobody’s happy about it, but those are the rules. As the old saying goes, the rich are different.
Since the action involves one person running from a small family, you’d think the movie would struggle to retain tension since Grace logically can’t die before the last act. Obviously, I’m not saying she does or doesn’t – just that’d be the expectation. Still, the movie does a laudable job maintaining its forward momentum and keeps upping the ante with a series of evermore suspenseful set-pieces without resorting to unrealistic plot armour. The body count and kills are unexpectedly impressive, with the film constantly finding creative/ funny ways to the cast: especially staffers, who are disposable to the snobbish Le Domas dynasty. On that point, it’s hard to overstate how good the comedy in this movie is. Near enough everyone in it has exceptional comic timing, and provide lots of laughter in the dark. Much of the violence has a sloppy, slapstick quality about it, emphasising most of the baddies are incompetent oafs: they don’t want to kill her more than she wants to be. Their ineptness almost makes them loveable and their many quirks mean everyone’s got something to work with.
As you can likely guess from the synopsis, it’s also a satire. Ready or Not is less overtly political than other recent state-of-the-nation movies, such as Get Out or The Purge. Yet it has a definite purpose that’s it’s skillfully woven into all parts of the script: the entitled upper classes acquire and keep hold of their wealth by birthright and exploiting the less well off. It’s a literal depiction of them thriving on the blood of the working classes: as personified by Grace. Speaking of her, Samara Weaving is at the top of her game – conveying both the situation’s life or death urgency and acknowledging its absurdity. She’s impressed me before, in both Mayhem and The Babysitter. Ready or Not is further proof she’s a top scream queen. I hope and expect this will be her breakout movie. It’s got the potential to be big too, since it’s, ironically, distributed by the 1% themselves at the House of Mouse (who owns Fox Searchlight). Thankfully I doubt anyone will need to die for it to be a success.
Ready or Not is out now.
A shortened version of this review, after my first viewing, can be found here.