Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
Starring Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien
A love story is a love story. An action movie is an action movie. But a horror movie is never just a horror movie—and that’s why I am such a huge fan of the genre. Is the centerpiece a haunted house? A peculiar little community? Zombies? Does it fall under the slasher sub-genre? Body horror? Home invasion thriller? Is it J (The Ring, Ju-On, Dark Water), K (The Wailing, The Host, A Tale of Two Sisters), or UK (all those quaint Hammer and Amicus productions from the ‘70s)? And because horror movies are often metaphorical expressions of deep-seated fears, there is always fun to be had in peeling away the movie’s text and context, and then dissecting its subtext.
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You can add this week’s new release Ready Or Not to another emerging sub-genre: the hide-and-seek thriller. Sure, horror movies are essentially exercises in hiding and seeking, but movies like The Purge (2013), The Belko Experiment (2016), and Universal’s recently shelved The Hunt all put their their hunt-or-be-killed premises front and center; if you look past their Young Adult tags and squint just a little bit, you can classify The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner as examples of hide-and-seek horror with a dystopian edge.
The groom’s tension can’t be accounted for by wedding-day jitters, or even by the fact that he’s back in the family fold after being estranged from them for so long: Tradition states that on midnight after a wedding, the family and its newest member must retire to the game room—all burnished wood, deer heads and antique weaponry on the walls—and pick a game to play. Grace draws the hide-and-seek card, a game that hasn’t been played in three decades, and Alex’s distress bubbles ever closer to the surface. That’s because unbeknownst to eager-to-please Grace, who so yearns to be embraced by her new family that she remains willfully blind to their eccentricities, the Le Domases aim to kill her once they find her.
Another element these movies share is class warfare, this idea of the unwitting, the indigent and the powerless being used as sport for the amusement of an amoral patrician class. Ready Or Not doesn’t wear its social commentary on its sleeve, even though the conflict between the haves and the lone have-not is central to its premise: A bride named Grace (Samara Weaving), a product of the foster care system, marries into the Le Domas family, who built their fortune on board games and sports teams. The Le Domases are so wealthy that when Grace asks her soon-to-be husband Alex (Mark O’Brien) whether they have a dynasty or an empire, he responds in a voice quavering with low-grade stress, “We prefer dominion.”
The class warfare aspect is blunted by the fact that Ready Or Notis actually a screwball comedy—it’s Meet the Parents drawn to its outlandish, nightmarish conclusion. The script by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy doesn’t have the Le Domas family expressing a political preference, and their motives are not ascribed to pernicious privilege. No, they must hunt Grace down because according to family lore, their great-great grandfather made a deal with the devil, and failing to do so will result in dire consequences to the family fortune—maybe even to their very lives.
Being so tied to the yoke of family superstition, the Le Domases are reduced to winsome idiots: Apart from the long-winded patriarch (Henry Czerny) and his chic wife (Andie MacDowell), there’s a cocaine-snorting sister (Melanie Scrofano) who is so hopped up on adrenaline she kills two maids by mistake; a son-in-law (Kristian Bruun) who has to Google how to operate a crossbow; and a scowling aunt (Nicky Guadagni) who wears her shawl like a straitjacket, dropping lines like “Brown-haired niece, you continue to exist” as if they were poisoned bonbons.
Ready Or Not settles into its groove predictably—not that there’s anything wrong with that. Grace rips up her wedding dress, substitutes her high heels for high tops, and morphs into a heroine who is not only fighting to survive until dawn, but starts to see her ordeal as a crusade for vengeance. And while Weaving delivers a game performance that takes as much glee from punching a gun-wielding child as it does in bludgeoning a butler with a teapot, Ready Or Notis one of those thrillers that pays actual attention to its villains too. There are cracks in the dominion—notably in Adam Brody’s dissolute brother-in-law—which results in unexpected shifts in power.
Ultimately, Ready Or Not revels in the convoluted dynamic within families: the awkward ways they propagate their traditions, the uneasy detentes between people with different convictions who have to co-exist side by side. Ready Or Not gets its juice from the proposition that families can be a bloody mess; seek it out in cinemas this weekend.
Photographs from IMDB