GREG'S GRADE: A-
"It's true what they say," a character remarks in "Ready or Not," a vicious takedown of the 1%. "The rich really are different."
Not a subtle statement, but then again, we aren't exactly living in subtle times.
"Ready or Not" tells of the eccentric Le Domas family, which made its fortune through board games and suspects the worst of anyone marrying into the clan. That brings us to Grace (Samara Weaving), bright-eyed and in love with Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien), who's returned to his family's sprawling estate only to observe their long-held matrimonial traditions.
So, on their wedding night, Grace gathers with the whole family — including her disdainful new father-in-law (Henry Czerny); friendly, accepting mother-in-law (Andie MacDowell); alcoholic but good-intentioned brother-in-law Daniel (Adam Brody); and perpetually scowling Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni) — at midnight to play a game. All she must do is draw a card from a deck, and they will play whatever is written on it. Grace, still in her wedding dress, accepts it with a smile. Sure, it's weird, but growing up in foster homes, being a true part of a family is all she's ever wanted. Besides, they probably will end up playing chess or backgammon or any one of the board games that helped build the Le Domas gaming empire, or "dominion" as they prefer to call it.
Grace pulls "hide and seek," which seems innocent enough — until it's apparent she's the only one hiding and until the family members start pulling weapons — rifles, axes and crossbows — from the walls. Due to a deal with the devil made long ago, they must capture Grace and kill her in a ritual sacrifice before dawn — or they will die themselves.
A simple game turns into a fight for survival for Grace after Alex, going against his family to help her, explains what's really happening.
It's a terrifying scenario, and directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett draw much suspense from the dark, claustrophobic corridors of the Le Domas home. But the movie, written by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy, is just as notable for its pitch black humor and satire. "Hide and seek" hasn't been pulled in a generation, and the hunters are shockingly inept given how casually they approach the impending murder of their family's newest addition. They bicker over which traditions they must observe, such as using the same rusty old weapons and whether their ancestors would have taken advantage of security cameras had they been available. While there is a thematic point to their foolishness, it comes dangerously close to undermining the horror at times, especially when a series of deaths is played as slapstick comedy.
The movie's greatest asset is its leading lady. With her white dress, blonde hair, huge blue eyes and smile that seems to take over her entire face, Weaving's Grace makes for a stark visual contrast to the dour, dark-haired, black-clad Le Domas family. Grace never truly overcomes her fear, but she compartmentalizes it, allowing a tenacious will to survive to come to the fore. The film, however, resists the urge to fetishize her and the violence she endures and dishes out. At one point, Grace clashes a glimpse of herself in a mirror. It's an iconic image — Grace in her wedding dress, sneakers having replaced heels, shotgun in hand, bandolier full of shells slung across her chest — yet she reacts with desperate disbelief at the sheer absurdity of it all. It's a take that's consistent with the character and a knowing wink to the audience.
"Ready or Not" walks that fine line throughout. It doesn't have anything particularly new or insightful to say in its criticism of the most privileged among us, but its barbs are razor sharp. If you're into this sort of thing, the combination of suspense, gore and wicked comedy is riotously entertaining — a recipe destined to make "Ready or Not" a cult classic for years to come.
Rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughout and some drug use. 95 minutes.
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