Ready Or Not film review: one of the best genre crowd-pleasers of the year

Cinema, Ready Or Not, Reviews

“Fucking rich people!” screams Grace, long after she’s come to terms with the fact that the family she’s just married into are trying to sacrifice her to an entity who they believe demands her blood. For all the gory, funny thrills of this latest effort from filmmaking collective Radio Silence (contributors to V/H/S and Southbound, and makers of Devil’s Due), there’s a bitter and immensely satisfying middle finger raised to the one percent who will do anything to maintain their way of life.

That social commentary is certainly foregrounded, but it’s just as important to note just how fun Ready Or Not is. For starters, it’s got a great hook. Grace (Samara Weaving) is marrying her beloved Alex (Mark O’Brien) and even though neither is massively thrilled about spending time with the ludicrously wealthy Le Domas clan/gaming “dominion”, she’s determined to put the effort in to be a part of the family.

It all seems to be going well and eventually there’s just one more hurdle to clear. On the stroke of midnight, it’s tradition for the new family member to draw a card from the family heirloom Le Bail box and play the game it instructs. But when Grace pulls the Hide And Seek card, she is unwittingly thrown into the most dangerous game with herself as the target.

The film clues us in to what’s going on from the get-go with a helpful prologue sequence and the filmmakers are smart enough to explain the bulk of the mythology early on: as far as they’re concerned, if they don’t catch and kill Grace, their entire family will die. What makes it so devilishly fun is watching the excellent cast explore how their characters respond to the prospect of murdering their new in-law, or bride in the case of Alex.

Alex is determined to protect Grace, even as his mother Becky (Andie MacDowell, perfectly cast) tries to bring him back into the fold. Coked-up flighty sister Emilie (Wynonna Earp’s Melanie Scrofano) and her idiot husband Fitch (Kristian Bruun) don’t seem like formidable prospects but they’re loaded and armed with kids to protect, and alcoholic brother Daniel (an excellent Adam Brody) is clearly miserable but doesn’t seem to have the energy to actually do anything about it. Meanwhile, parents Tony (the mighty Henry Czerny) and Becky are trying to keep everyone together and just get the thing done as the spiteful Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni) urges everyone on to the slaughter.

It’s really a testament to the cast and to writers Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy (no, not that one) that the family are this much fun to watch but we’re still absolutely rooting for our heroine. Samara Weaving has been doing excellent work for a while now and it’s great to see her in a role that plays to her strengths in a film that matches her performance. Grace is funny and sharp but there’s an emotional vulnerability to her longing for a family. Once the chips are down and the vintage firearms are out, Weaving gives her a real strength that’s never at the expense of her shock and outrage at what they’re trying to do to her.

The film hews dangerously closely to Adam Wingard’s You’re Next early on, but the focus on its messy, monstrous characters keeps it fresh and engaging, and there’s the fascinating question of this curse that the family believes its labouring under. Is it real? Is it nonsense? Which is worse?

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have a lot of fun with the bloody set-pieces and moments of high tension and the cast is clearly having a brilliant time finding the humour and horror. Funny, sharp and with a fantastic horror heroine in Samara Weaving’s Grace, Ready Or Not is one of the best genre crowd-pleasers we’ve seen this year.

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