It’s very rare for me to actually be excited by horror films. For whatever reason, my suspension of disbelief just doesn’t work in that setting. Watching a character get chased by some demonic/psychotic killer doesn’t fill me with dread because I’m fully aware of sitting in a theater staring at a screen. That extra layer between me and the world on film is too much.
Likewise, I’m not all that into black comedies. Usually a sub-genre, these films often push the boundaries of what’s acceptable for the sole purpose of being shocking. While there is often times a satirical point for everything, I can’t tell you how many black comedies I’ve seen that sound like racist ramblings instead of having a deeper meaning.
So when I went to check out Ready or Not, I had a feeling this was going to be some nutso horror film where characters acted like morons and gore was thrown around to distract from crappy writing. Turns out I was completely wrong because this is actually quite an effective marriage of two of my least liked genres.
Ready or Not
Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Release: August 21, 2019
Ready or Not follows the story of Grace (Samara Weaving) on her wedding night. Having just married Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), heir to the Le Domas Game Dominion, Grace is informed that she needs to play a game with his family before officially becoming a member. Crazy in love with him, she accepts without realizing her night is about to become hell. Turns out rich people are utterly insane because their idea of a game is to hunt and kill Grace before sunrise.
Before getting to that moment, though, we’re introduced to most of the family and it becomes clear that Ready or Not is a form of social commentary on the rich. Grace is an orphan that simply wishes to have a family while the Le Domas’ are tearing each other apart over greed. No one is good enough for their inner circle and Grace may just be the lady to tear them apart. That’s really reading into it a bit much though, because Ready or Not is more about the spectacle than any particular messaging.
Putting both its horror and black comedy trappings to work, this plays out like an ultra-gory version of “Hide and Seek” with plenty of laughs at the absurd and macabre. While on the hunt for Grace, the Le Domas’ mistakenly kill a few of their maids and the scenes are played with complete self-awareness for the ridiculousness of the premise. Nothing is too sacred for Ready or Not, which satisfies the horror geek in the theaters and the fans of breaking down societal barriers.
There’s plenty of gore, lots of curse words, and a young boy gets punched square in the face. It’s a real trip, made all the more impressive by its practical effects. It’s surprising how much one can gleam from this film because almost every scene is a multi-faceted wonder. You can turn off your brain and enjoy a thrilling film, or you can read deeper into the significance of pivotal moments.
The directing duo of Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett certainly knew when to play up the sincerity of a situation and when to simply let Grace be a total badass. It’s a tightrope walk that the two never stumble from, which leads to an uproariously good time. Through and through, Ready or Not is just a fun movie where a damsel in distress subverts expectations and becomes a solo wonder.
It helps that the cast is put to great use here. Samara Weaving imbues Grace with just enough humanity to have you rooting for her before the character transforms into a killing machine by the end. I’m particularly fond of Henry Czerny, who plays the patriarch of the Le Domas family. He is given most of the comedic bits and often devolves into a string of consecutive curse words that make no audible sense. The utter madness of his character shows through in his expressions and passionate delivery.
There are too many players to start naming them all off, but everyone really nails what their role calls for. They may be archetypal, but they serve a point and never feel wasted. They also all have at least one scene dedicated solely to them, which helps build the threat present to Grace at every turn. Despite me still not being affected by the horror elements, I could definitely feel the tension Grace had running around this dark mansion like a blind rat.
About the only sour point is that Ready or Not is a little too short. At a brisk 95 minutes, the film sort of rushes to a conclusion. Characters start making confounding decisions and an almost requisite backstab happens that makes you scratch your head. Despite doing its best to break down expectations, Ready or Not ultimately succumbs to lunacy to round out its story. It doesn’t help that nothing feels all that original. You can catch a lot of subtext from what’s happening and certain scenes make great use of symbolism, but there’s an air of “been there, done that” to everything. Solid acting and great costume design make this worth a watch, but I walked out of the theater without much of an impression apart from “that was fun.”
It’s telling that the biggest complaint I can come up with is its lack of freshness, though. I’d really have to nitpick to give you more flaws, which is a very good sign. I suppose some people won’t care for the darker elements to its story, but then this isn’t meant for them anyway. Others might be disgusted at how gory the film is, but I had no problem with the more explicit scenes. I’ve always loved films that are willing to break away from the norm and Ready or Not balances its black comedy and horror elements better than most. It knows how insane its premise sounds and uses that to the betterment of the end product.
Not everyone is going to agree with that, but who cares? Ready or Not is more about having a blast at the cinema than it is about its individual elements. There’s a lot of dig into here, but you could also take it at face value and still have fun.