Studio: Fox Searchlight
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpen, Tyler Gillett
Writer: Guy Busick, R. Christopher Murphy
Producer: Tripp Vinson, James Vanderbilt, William Sherak, Bradley J. Fischer
Stars: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O¡¯Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Melanie Scrofano, Kristian Bruun, Elyse Levesque, Nicky Guadagni, John Ralston
A newlywed bride discovers her wealthy in-laws¡¯ sinister secret when they force her to play a deadly game of Hide and Seek.
When Grace gets an ¡°are you sure you want to do this?¡± right before she and Alex exchange vows, she assumes her husband-to-be simply has a common case of temporary cold feet. What she doesn¡¯t yet know, but will retroactively realize before their wedding night concludes, is Alex actually just gave Grace one last chance to sidestep a terrible trap of slaughter potentially headed her way.
Alex belongs to the uber-wealthy Le Domas dynasty, whose family fortune had its humble beginnings in a playing card company. Patriarch Tony explains his great-grandfather made a deal with a bizarre benefactor, Mr. Le Bail, who funded the endeavor that eventually turned into a gaming empire. The catch? Tradition demands that each new family member play a random game supposedly selected by Mr. Le Bail¡¯s spirit via an antique puzzle box.
Tony leaves out one important stipulation by neglecting to tell Grace there is one game card she definitely does not want to get. Wary of scaring off his new bride, Alex decides it¡¯s better to play the odds by not telling her the total truth about that particular card either. Naturally, Grace pulls it. Too bad for her, Hide and Seek will be Grace¡¯s game. While the bride hides, Alex grimaces, and Tony begins handing out weapons for the deadly hunt ahead.
All signs pointed to me enjoying ¡°Ready or Not.¡± Social circles in the online horror community certainly suggested as much. Many people placed ¡°Ready or Not¡± on their ¡®Best of the Year¡¯ lists while numerous others made ¡°hilarious¡± a dominant adjective for describing the film.
Every name attached to the movie additionally assured ¡°Ready or Not¡± would be up my alley. Even when my reception to their projects has been lukewarm or cooler, the Radio Silence filmmaking collective nevertheless intrigues me with their unusual output. Samara Weaving¡¯s already blinding star hasn¡¯t even risen half as high as it¡¯s destined to. Kristian Bruun, who plays douchey brother-in-law Fitch, stole every other scene as standout supporting dork Donny in ¡°Orphan Black.¡± John Ralston, who features as the family¡¯s butler, made for a memorable mayor and delightfully dickish father on ¡°Degrassi.¡± Adam Brody. Andie MacDowell. I love all of these people.
The stacked cast alone made my piqued interest the rest of the movie¡¯s to lose. And lose my interest it unfortunately did.
I don¡¯t know whether to cynically chuckle or pityingly cry at claims that ¡°Ready or Not¡± is fresh, original, or witty, all of which are accolades I¡¯ve seen used despite a dearth of empirical evidence. Did everyone collectively forget that ¡°You¡¯re Next¡± (review here) follows a parallel premise where a resilient heroine battles back against attackers all over a mansion? Does no one else remember ¡°Would You Rather¡± (review here), where a wealthy man¡¯s dinner party turns deadly after he forces guests to play dangerous games?
¡°Ready or Not¡± isn¡¯t even the first film to feature Samara Weaving comically carving her way through blood-spattered carnage. Joe Lynch already gave us that with ¡°Mayhem¡± (review here). Hell, ¡°Ready or Not¡± isn¡¯t even the only darkly humorous horror movie of 2019 to have a kooky cult create chaos while chasing down someone snarky to be sacrificed. Chelsea Stardust¡¯s ¡°Satanic Panic¡± (review here) already did that too.
By virtue of its plot point hodgepodge, ¡°Ready or Not¡± becomes a redundant redux of ideas that have previously been brought to life in more biting, full bore presentations. ¡°Ready or Not¡± plays safer versions of identical games to stay scandalously tame by comparison.
Doing things that have been done before doesn¡¯t have to be a deal breaker. Horror movies in particular do it all the time and still find success. Whether it¡¯s uncreative kills, cursory characterizations, or totally telegraphed beats, ¡°Ready or Not¡¯s¡± real issue is that it doesn¡¯t put any inventive spins on standard setups.
Talented actors can only do so much when expressive individuality comes down to one stereotypical trait per person. Scatterbrained sister Emilie has more cocaine outside her nostrils than in them. Icy sister-in-law Charity snootily sips wine while emasculating her husband. Even Grace gets no more flesh on her backstory bones than a basic bit about being from the wrong side of the tracks, triggering brief bonding with Alex¡¯s mother before Grace subsequently becomes a mere agent of action.
How much more development should anyone have had? Enough to not feel like machine made, perforated pages torn from a standard ¡®Snobby Rich People Playing the Most Dangerous Game¡¯ textbook. In Weaving¡¯s case, her natural charisma takes up some of that slack. But hoity-toity becomes ho-hum in the case of everyone else embodying a clich¨¦.
I went back through the film trying to find the supposed hilarity others claim is abundant. Maybe I happened to pause at poor points, but I don¡¯t see what¡¯s laugh out loud hysterical about a running gag where the sister accidentally kills multiple maids, a particular dead servant gets repeatedly referenced as everyone¡¯s favorite, or Alex¡¯s brother tires of flipping a coin to decide what end of a body he carries. Some jokes pass as flighty diversions. As sharply rich comedy? Come on.
¡°Ready or Not¡¯s¡± amazing location and spectacular cinematography give the movie a great look. A gruesomely gooey, savagely satisfying climax goes over like gangbusters too. If only the preceding 80 minutes dared to be as bonkers instead of palely echoing more satirically savvy takes on similar material, ¡°Ready or Not¡± could have vaulted past ¡°okay, if inessential.¡± As is, ¡°Ready or Not¡± may be mistaken for a future cult classic when relatively few will continue talking about it down the line.
Review Score: 55