Director: Matt Bettinelli-Opin, Tyler Gillett
Writer: Guy Busick, Ryan Murphy
Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Andie MacDowell, Henry Czerny, Nicky Guadagni, Melanie Scrofano, Kristian Bruun, Elyse Levesque, John Ralston
It’s definitely been mentioned numerous times before, how difficult it is to make a decent horror film these days, especially around Halloween season when we’re supposed to be inundated with horrors (not so much this year, though). So, why not go a slightly different route? On the surface, Ready or Not comes across as just another one of those horrors destined to fall out of cinemas quite quickly and die a slow death in DVD/download releases. But there is something of a genre twist to it that could be its saving grace, something that has been tried and tested before but doesn’t always work out. Is Ready or Not a good example of genre-bending horror, or is going to go straight to the bargain bin soon after release?
Grace (Weaving) has just married her fiancé, Alex (O’Brien), and is looking forward to being part of the Le Domas family. The name is synonymous with games, with the historical family business being that of board games. In-keeping with tradition, the family gather on the couple’s wedding night to play a game in order to induct their newest member. Grace pulls a card from a mysterious box and discovers that the game to be played is hide and seek. Knowing what’s in store for her, having picked the one card that could mean her death, Alex attempts to help Grace survive. The family is charged with hunting Grace, but luckily for her, the family own a huge estate, with many hiding places. Her only chance to survive the night is to run, hide or fight until the sun rises.
As mentioned, there is a genre twist to this, and it’s not entirely clear in the trailer: it’s a horror with buckets of black comedy thrown into it, almost as though writers Busick and Murphy knew the premise wouldn’t make much of a frightening (nor original) film and decided to something a little more akin to Drag Me to Hell. It’s mostly thanks to the casting choices that the comedy is pulled off well, because without it, this movie wouldn’t have lasted in cinemas as long as it did (the fact it’s left before Halloween is even here might say something too…). The story, although pretty straight-forward and without much in the way of surprises, is relatively sensible, in that you won’t find yourself getting annoyed at Grace for running upstairs when she should be going out the door, or being the damsel in distress that typically features in many horror movies (in fact, she’s quite kick-ass, as we’ll come back to in a bit). In this sense, Busick and Murphy have saved themselves from eternal damnation by not pissing off horror lovers and still giving the average moviegoer something to attach to.
As is necessary of a horror/comedy like this, there is plenty of gore, and plenty of opportunity to laugh when the gore ensues. Some may find these instances to be laugh-out-loud, others may find them to be low chuckles, but one scene at the very end of the movie is likely to get most people chuckling, at least. Grace’s not-so-gradual descent from beautiful bride to a resonance of The Bride from Tarantino’s Kill Bill is hardcore and well executed. As production design goes, the mansion that the Le Domas’s reside in is not only perfect for a game of hide and seek but is also so grand that it almost becomes a character itself. The way it’s used to frame a lot of shots (particularly the main staircase) is reminiscent of older horror movies, particularly the black and white, Nosferatu types, that use light and shadow to convey a dark and ominous presence.
Weaving (niece of Hugo ‘Mr Elrond Smith’ Weaving) is a relative newcomer to mainstream movies, her career thus far featuring a few T.V. shows and movies ranging from Monster Trucks to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (check her out in zombie movie Mayhem, highly recommended), but she’s already making her mark. As Grace, she’s highly relatable as a resilient and hardcore survivalist (surprisingly) and actually makes for a pretty awesome and strong female lead, but her talent for comedy is what really makes it work. She doesn’t overdo it or push it beyond the necessary; her performance is the right balance of realistic fear and unbelieving wit. It probably says a lot about Bettinelli-Opin’s and Gillett’s direction too, helping to keep Weaving on the right track. Not a whole lot has been seen of Brody since perhaps his most famous role as Seth in The O.C. (he’s done this and that, a few T.V. appearances, some movie roles, but nothing of particular consequence), but here he plays something of a drunk anti-hero as Grace’s brother-in-law Daniel. Along with Czerny and MacDowell supporting as Daniel and Alex’s parents, it’s a strong casting, though outside of Grace and Daniel, the characters lack interest. You’ve got your standard addicts and narcissists within the family, and they add some humour and stop certain scenes from becoming to stagnant, but overall there’s not really anything to latch onto with them; they’re really just there to add numbers to the hunting party and show what happens if you’re lucky enough to not pull the hide and seek card when you marry into the Le Domas family.
Where this film succeeds is in its injection of comedy, some of the cinematography and Weaving’s performance. Where it stumbles is in the supporting characters and horror aspects: you will not have nightmares from this movie, and the infrequent use of jump-scares (both a blessing and a curse) may leave you wanting more (depending on your like or dislike of jump-scares). It’s also, as mentioned at the beginning, not the most original of stories. Credit where credit’s due for trying to do something a bit different with it, such as the black comedy in order to stoke the fires, but it’s still not going to be the (horror) film of the year. Worth a watch, for sure, but you won’t be hunted down if you don’t seek out this film.