Review: Survival Thriller 'Ready or Not' Packs Heat & Plays for Keeps
by Adam Frazier
August 22, 2019
Formed in 2011 by directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, along with their executive producer Chad Villella, the filmmaking trio collectively known as "Radio Silence" has been working in the horror genre for nearly a decade. They made their initial debut in the 2012 horror anthology film, V/H/S, with the segment known as 10/31/98, in which a group of friends in search of a Halloween party stumbles upon an actual house of horrors. In 2014, the collective delivered their first feature, a found-footage take on Rosemary's Baby titled Devil's Due, before contributing two segments to the 2015 horror anthology film Southbound. Now, Bettinelli-Olpin & Gillett are back in feature mode with the film Ready or Not, a black comedy thriller about an eccentric wealthy family bound by a deadly, time-honored tradition.
Written by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy, Ready or Not is about Grace (Australian actress Samara Weaving of Mayhem and The Babysitter), a young bride on her wedding day. After an 18-month courtship, Grace and her wealthy boyfriend, Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien), are married at his family's palatial estate. The wedding night, however, doesn't go as planned. The Le Domas dynasty, headed by Alex's parents Tony and Becky (Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell), built their fortune on board games and playing cards, and – as a new member of the clan – Grace must join her in-laws for family game night.
Still in her wedding dress, the newly-wed draws a card from a deck to determine which game they'll play. Instead of a harmless game of chess, checkers, or backgammon, Grace pulls the rare "Hide and Seek" card. Locked inside the sprawling Le Domas mansion, Grace must stay safely hidden until dawn while the rest of the family, including Alex's alcoholic brother, Daniel (Adam Brody), his coke-snorting sister Emilie (Melanie Scrofano), and Very Scary Older Woman™ Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni) hunt the blonde-haired bride – literally – with crossbows, battle axes, pistols, and spearguns. Grace must outwit and outlast the bloodthirsty blue bloods if she hopes to make it until sunrise and win the game.
Following in the footsteps of films like The Most Dangerous Game, Surviving the Game, You're Next, and The Purge before it, Ready or Not plays with the concept of hunting human beings for sport, and like Cabin in the Woods, it's ultimately for a higher purpose. Unlike Drew Goddard's 2011 cult classic horror movie, however, the reason isn't to appease ancient subterranean deities, but rather good ol' American greed. How do the rich get richer? They sacrifice the common folk, but of course.
Much like Jordan Peele's Get Out, Ready or Not packs a lot of social commentary into a slick, stylish horror movie that delivers laughs, scares, and gore all in equal measure. By comparison, it's rather interesting that Universal decided to shelve the release of The Hunt, about a group of people hunted in a game devised by the "rich elite", after intense public criticism, yet this movie (thankfully) bypassed that entire controversy altogether. Freedom of expression – including artistic expression that is provocative or controversial – is vital to a free society. Art starts conversations, it pushes boundaries and often reflects the culture in which it was created. Ready or Not is a product of its time: an escapist fantasy that entertains in order to confront. Money is power, but social commentary disguised as mainstream entertainment is more powerful.
What strikes me most about Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett's film is how gorgeous it is. The duo's deft direction, along with editor Terel Gibson's epigrammatic editing, builds tension and delivers punchlines, while cinematographer Brett Jutkiewicz's intricate camera moves accentuate the work of production designer Andrew M. Stearn (of Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale") and costume designer Avery Plewes (of Netflix's "The Umbrella Academy"). With a warm color palette comprised of cream, gold, crimson, and mahogany, the mansion's many candle-lit passageways, cobwebbed secret passages, and exotic trophy rooms are richly detailed and exquisitely rendered. Ready or Not looks like Joe Wright's Anna Karenina covered in blood.
In addition to the movie's strong visuals, the performances are just as impressive. The casting team of John Buchan, Jason Knight, and Yesi Ramirez put together one hell of an ensemble, with Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Adam Brody, and Nicky Guadagni delivering memorable supporting turns. It's Samara Weaving, however, who steals the show with a star-making role that showcases her range. As Grace, a young woman from humble beginnings trying to survive her in-laws, Weaving is both vulnerable and fearless. When the shotgun-toting, blood-soaked bride slams her hand through a nail and practically crucifies herself to climb a rickety ladder to safety, you feel her resolve. You root for her to win, because if she can overcome the odds and win a game that's rigged by unfeeling aristocrats, maybe there's hope for us all.
Adam's Rating: 4 out of 5
Follow Adam on Twitter - @AdamFrazier