Ready or Not, with its cozy mansion and eccentric characters, brings to mind the comedy/mystery Clue (1985). However, this time it’s comedy/horror, and directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett dispose of the mystery, escalate the intensity, and align the viewer with one character: young bride Grace (Samara Weaving), who’s brought into the fold of the wealthy Le Domas dynasty or, as one member prefers to call it, “dominion”. The family has built its fortune in games: playing cards, board games, and eventually, the ownership of sports franchises.
Still in her wedding dress, Grace gets thrust into a game of hide-and-seek – she’s the one who’s hiding – on the family estate. The stakes are high: if the Le Domases find Grace, they kill her. Husband Alex (Mark O’Brien) wants to help his new wife; alas, he has seven family members and a butler intent on finding her.
The film takes a bit long to get to the game. However, once it does, it’s a riveting experience, due in large part to Weaving’s performance. The heroine fights back, but still convincingly conveys the terror, shock and pain she undergoes as the sick game unfolds. She’s not too dainty to drop an f-bomb or throw a punch, nor does she entirely shed her womanhood to become Rambo in a dress (despite the movie poster that shows her clutching a rifle and wearing a bullet sash). Listen for Weaving’s animalistic scream – it almost sounds like a goat bleating – when things reach a boiling point.
Much of the film’s beauty lies in its contrasts: wood-panelled walls, candelabras and dumbwaiters merge with crazed screams, corpses and big weapons. No candlesticks and lead pipes here… Instead, it’s axes, crossbows and shotguns.
Some family members are tepid about the game, while others embrace it with a murderous glee. Among Grace’s pursuers are high-strung, drug-abusing sister-in-law Emilie (Melanie Scrofano) and her disinterested husband Fitch Bradley (Kristian Bruun), sarcastic brother-in-law Daniel (Adam Brody) and his gold-digging wife (lightheartedly named) Charity (Elyse Levesque), and exuberant father-in-law Tony (Henry Czerny) and his hard-to-read wife Becky (Andie MacDowell). The two standouts are battle axe-wielding Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni), whose heavy black eyeshadow and jerky movements give her a demonic presence, and Stevens (John Ralston), a butler with a passion for Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” Also notable is MacDowell’s performance as matron Becky Le Domas – her dramatically tilting eyebrows convey a mock sympathy.
If there is one theme that permeates Ready or Not it is loyalty… between parents and children, between siblings, and between spouses. The only bond that’s certain is the one between filmmaker and viewer.—Douglas J. Ogurek ****