A committed performance from Samara Weaving helps elevate Fox Searchlight’s brutal hide-and-seek horror-thriller
Dirs: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett. US. 2019. 95mins.
Here comes the bride, tryin’ to stay alive, in Ready Or Not, a cheeky, brutal horror-thriller from Fox Searchlight that ends up closely resembling the rich family at its centre: a tad empty and soulless. Samara Weaving is volcanic as a young woman who must fight for her life on her wedding night once she enters into a deadly contest of “Hide And Seek” with her twisted in-laws, but although directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett do a good job executing tense suspense sequences, neither the satire nor the setup is particularly convincing. What we’re left with is some nifty cinematic gamesmanship which is not as politically astute as it thinks it is.
Ready Or Not hits US theatres August 21, with a UK release planned for September 27. Lacking major stars, this genre offering will lean heavily on its Most Dangerous Game-like premise to court viewers. The film will probably inspire numerous comparisons to The Hunt, the Universal thriller which the studio recently axed from its release schedule in the wake of mass shootings in the US. Those plot similarities may raise awareness for Ready Or Not, although it’s uncertain if that attention will translate to significant box office.
As the story begins, Grace (Weaving) is preparing to marry Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), the sensitive prodigal son of a wealthy, snooty family led by icy mother Becky (Andie MacDowell) and pompous father Tony (Henry Czerny). After the ceremony, the entire family gathers at their lush mansion estate so that Grace can take part in a Le Domas wedding tradition: playing a random game at midnight. Unwittingly, she selects “Hide And Seek,” not knowing that the family plays it a little differently. The Le Domas clan will hunt her with weapons throughout the massive house — she must try to stay alive until dawn.
Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett (who co-directed Devil’s Due) take Grace’s harrowing stakes seriously, although it’s clear they are also tongue in cheek as they mock the Le Domas family, who are portrayed as a maniacally immoral group of blue bloods who are so spoiled that they’re completely out of touch with reality. But while there’s some nasty fun to be had in watching Alex’s clan ghoulishly conspire to kill Grace — while Alex is chained up, powerless to protect his bride — Ready Or Not’s superficial commentary only takes the picture so far. Even at a time in which many people feel resentment toward the one-per-cent, the Le Domas clan are too cartoon-y in their monstrousness to fully satisfy as heels.
This deficiency goes hand-in-hand with the other weakness in Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy’s screenplay, which is adept at laying out taut showdowns for Grace but less equipped when it comes to establishing a plausible explanation for the Le Domas family’s bizarre ritual. Although Tony provides a lengthy backstory regarding the purpose of their macabre game night — his forefathers made a dire agreement with a mysterious man who helped ensure their fortune — its sheer ridiculousness can’t ever be completely dismissed, no matter how many diverting action sequences stem from the setup.
Additionally, it seems unconscionable that Alex would allow his bride to take part in this abhorrent ceremony, even if he thinks the odds are low that she’ll draw “Hide And Seek” and is more likely to pick something innocuous like chess.
As a result, the film operates mostly as a minor, spirited piece of midnight-movie cinema, with Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett sending Grace fleeing around the mansion and onto the estate grounds in a desperate attempt to avoid capture. Guns, crossbows, knives and blunt objects are all utilised in Ready Or Not’s litany of propulsive, grisly violence, but Weaving gives the bloodshed a human dimension as she plays a smart-aleck who finds an odd sort of liberation from taking up arms against her in-laws. Underneath the dark humour and rising body count, Ready Or Not also wants to be an ironic paean to female empowerment, depicting this bride as a woman fighting back against the patriarchy. Like most everything in this film, that commentary is shallow, but Weaving’s ferociously committed performance ennobles Grace so that we would never dream of mistaking her for the many female characters relegated to running around screaming in a horror movie.
Production companies: Mythology Entertainment, Vinson Films
Worldwide distribution: Disney
Producers: Tripp Vinson, James Vanderbilt, Willem Sherak, Bradley J. Fischer
Screenplay: Guy Busick & R. Christopher Murphy
Production design: Andrew M. Stearn
Editing: Terel Gibson
Cinematography: Brett Jutkiewicz
Music: Brian Tyler
Main cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell