'Ready or Not': Film Review

A frantic, bloody metaphor for the high price of wealth.
8/21/2019

Samara Weaving plays a bride whose in-laws want to kill her in a semi-comic thriller by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett.

How odd is it that, just as Fox News and its ventriloquist dummy in D.C. have stirred up enough phony controversy to scare a nervous studio into cancelling The Hunt, the station's one-time corporate cousins at Fox Searchlight are unveiling one of the bloodiest visions of class warfare this side of The Purge? A nasty little cat-and-mouser about a filthy-rich clan that will happily kill outsiders to protect its inherited wealth, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett's Ready or Not is not exactly subtle in its assertion that the rich are fundamentally different from the rest of us. Given how far subtle satire gets you these days, that's probably a smart move.

Samara Weaving plays Grace, who is about to marry Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien), the semi-estranged son of a family that made its fortune selling board games. Raised by foster parents, Grace craves belonging, not wealth, so it's poignant to watch her accept the sorry excuse for family she's getting here: Alex's dad Tony (Henry Czerny) clearly dislikes her; his siblings are too self-involved to make decent in-laws; and there are more scowls than hugs as the wedding party poses for photos on the Le Domas estate's impeccable lawn. Still, it's a wedding, and the lovebirds keep their spirits high — until the guests have gone home.

Then we learn that this family, deeply superstitious about the origins of its fortune, has a peculiar initiation ritual. Any person marrying into the family must, at midnight on her wedding night, play a randomly selected game with everyone else. Could be checkers, could be charades. Or it could be a version of Hide and Seek in which one hider (that'd be Grace) must stay alive until dawn while everyone else tries to kill her. And you thought drunk uncles' long-winded champagne toasts were a high price to pay for a storybook wedding.

As soon as we're beyond scenes of explanation and panicked disbelief, Grace is racing through the hallways of the locked-tight mansion, trying to dodge the crossbows, axes and antique firearms the family has trained on her. Fortunately, her pursuers — who last played this particular game a couple of decades ago — aren't a crackerjack squad of assassins. Alex's coked-up sister Emilie (Melanie Scrofano) provides some shock-violent comic relief, and as the chase heats up, we realize that the only lives these people value less than Grace's are those of their assorted nannies and housekeepers.

Alex is covertly trying to help Grace, but there's only so much he can do while his relatives squabble. Some, like his brother Daniel (Adam Brody), may be ambivalent enough about human sacrifice to slow the hunt down; but his mother (Andie MacDowell) and frighteningly witchy aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni, with fierce eyes and an upswept thicket of gray hair) truly believe in a curse that will kill them all if Grace isn't dead by dawn. Better her than us, goes the thinking.

Weaving, whose engagingly expressive face should help her get past comparisons to near-lookalike Margot Robbie, has been here before: In 2017's Mayhem, she played a victim of corporate greed who got an unusual opportunity to kill nearly everyone responsible for putting her house into foreclosure. Joe Lynch's appropriately titled bloodbath gave the actress a little more opportunity for wit, and its grisly kills came at a more exciting pace than they do here.

But Ready or Not has a fine time with its setting (the trappings of old money are much more appealing here than they were in Netflix's Murder Mystery), and Weaving is sharp enough to play things straight as the ensemble around her goes for the occasional laugh. The pic may have its tongue in cheek as it warns us that people with money will always, consciously or not, see those without it as less than human. But Grace is taking the lesson to heart.

Production companies: Mythology Entertainment, Vinson Films
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O'Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Melanie Scrofano, Kristian Bruun, Nicky Guadagni, Elyse Levesque, John Ralston
Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Screenwriters: Guy Busick, Ryan Murphy
Producers: Bradley J. Fischer, William Sherak, James Vanderbilt, Tripp Vinson
Executive producers: Daniel Bekerman, Chad Villella
Director of photography: Brett Jutkiewicz
Production designer: Andrew M. Stearn
Costume designer: Avery Plewes
Editor: Terel Gibson
Composer: Brian Tyler
Casting directors: John Buchan, Jason Knight

Rated R, 95 minutes