“I know it’s ridiculous. It’s just a weird family ritual. And we only have to do it once.”
It’s safe to say that there are a lot of films. Despite the medium only existing for around 100 years; so many different, interesting and complex stories have been told, that it’s not really a surprise that we’ve entered into a time of reboots and remakes, with studios choosing to try and update old stories with new film making techniques for new audiences. However; some movies are still striving to find new stories to tell with new themes; and Ready Or Not is one of those stories.
There’s a wedding in the Le Domas family; the youngest son, Alex (Mark O’Brien, Halt And Catch Fire) has returned to the family home to marry Grace (Samara Weaving, The Babysitter) in a ceremony with a twist; the night that they are wed, the new bride must engage in a game with the family, who own a successful family and board-game empire. She draws her choice from a mysterious puzzle box that was given to her new husband’s great grandfather by a man named Le Bail; a man he made a deal with in order to secure his fortune. Grace draws Hide & Seek, resulting in a night of terror as she hides from a family who are attempting to capture and kill her, to uphold the deal made with Le Bail. Thus, with Grace sneaking off to find a hiding place in her beautiful wedding dress, fatal shenanigans ensue.
This movie is just so much better than it has any justifiable reason to be. I’m not usually one for the “horror” genre in general, but this one fits into its thriller tag a lot more comfortably, and also has a very comfortable relationship with the comedy tag as well. While the idea of a murderous hunt themed around a game of hide and seek is objectively silly, the actual realisation of it in terms of narrative in Ready Or Not is pretty incredible. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Southbound), a directing duo who have been working with the horror genre for over a decade, bring a wealth of experience to this movie and it shows. The film is terrifically shot; the action is always well framed so that even when it takes you by surprise, you don’t miss a moment of it. This movie is not an unstoppable bloodbath, given that there is only one character who is being hunted, and it works better for it. The reversal from the horror norm of “group fleeing single threat” to “single victim fleeing a group” allows for a change of pace; the violent incidents are well-spaced out and wonderfully constructed to not only give the standard audience relief for periods of tension, but they also are keenly placed in order to drive the narrative in a clever, inventive way. Grace only starts to truly understand the gravity of the situation she’s in when Alex’s younger sister Emilie (Melanie Scrofano, Letterkenny) accidentally kills a member of the household staff in front of her hiding spot.
The use of the supporting cast in this way is tremendous; and the earlier kills are both shocking, funny and just gruesome enough; making use of some very effective practical effects to show not only the brutality at hand, but also the inefficiency of the Le Domas family in their hunt. Not every new member of the family draws Hide & Seek, so the majority of the family haven’t had to take part in this particular game, and it creates a terrific set of emotional responses that allow the cast to present their humanity and flesh out their characters to the audience. Adam Brody (Shazam!) in particular takes full advantage of this opportunity, and his portrayal of Alex’s reluctant, alcoholic older brother Daniel is surprisingly subtle and considered for a thriller of this nature; and he does a lot to open the plot up in terms of its morality and its grounding in a fascinating way, both through his interactions with Grace, Alex and his incredibly glamorous and terrifying wife Charity (Elyse Levesque, Stargate Universe). Scrofano’s Emilie and her husband Fitch (Kristian Bruun, Orphan Black) are on hand for the bulk of the comedic moments, though the whole cast has their fair share of laughs as well. The heads of the family, played by Henry Czerny (The Exorcism Of Emily Rose), Andie MacDowell (Groundhog Day) and Nicky Guadagni (The Handmaid’s Tale) provide various levels of terror, with Czerny and Guadagni being particularly, skin-crawling unsettling within their performances all the way through.
The stand-out performance is from Weaving herself, as she shoulders the vast majority of the tension and a considerable amount of the suffering. While it’s safe to say she lasts at least most of the way through the narrative without being killed (no spoilers as to how it ends, of course); she certainly has a tough time; with various injuries and escape attempts resulting in an increasingly battered and bloody Grace, her white wedding dress becoming more torn and filthy as the film goes on, and she does most of it alone. Alex eventually manages to explain exactly what is happening (though his explanation alludes to a misogynistic attitude towards her and her role in their marriage if they both survive the ordeal), and does give her a necessary advantage by bringing her a pair of trainers to wear so she doesn’t end up pulling a full John McClane; but other than that she spends most of the film alone, usually joined only by people who are trying to murder her. Grace’s fight or flight reflexes never fully settle on one option and she is often ready to do both together if needed, creating an incredible performance of simultaneous strength and terror as she faces mounting challenges from every member of the house she encounters. After her role as the eponymous babysitter in The Babysitter, it’s nice to see that she can flip the script and become the hunted party, especially in a film where she must shoulder that burden solo, and do it as well as she does it here. Given the physical effort put into this piece, I would hope she gets snapped up as a potential action lead before too long.
There’s not a whole lot more to say without giving away details; but I would encourage everyone to seek this one out, as it’s a lot of fun. I wasn’t even planning on writing a review of it, but I enjoyed it so much that I had to! If you’re okay with a little blood and the occasional fatal stab wound realised in spectacularly realistic (but not over-the-top) detail, and would like to see a funny and appropriately tense thriller with a raft of enjoyable performances, then Ready Or Not could be the one for you.
Dave McGuckin is a theatre graduate, bar manager, former comedian and eternal film lover from Northern Ireland, now living in Canada. He began writing film reviews in 2016 for The Grade and then Great Central, both based in Leicester, England.
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