Alibi V.28 No.34 • Aug 22-28, 2019 

Film Review

Ready or Not

Devilish black comedy is a real killer

Ready or Not ()

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett

Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien

“Why couldn’t we have played Pokémon Go?”
“Why couldn’t we have played Pokémon Go?”

Fox Searchlight’s Ready or Not is a maniacal, blackly comic horror thriller that serves as the umpteenth rewrite of Richard Connell’s shopworn 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game.” Interestingly, it’s hitting theaters the exact same week that Universal Pictures canceled the release of The Hunt, its own blackly comic rewrite of “The Most Dangerous Game.” The Hunt caught the attention of mock-outraged conservative pundits, who bashed the film for its mild twist on Connell’s premise (rich liberals hunting poor, Trump-loving conservatives). Somehow, Ready or Not slipped in under the radar—mostly because it sticks with the tried-and-true formula. (Rich people = greedy, conservative and supernaturally evil. Poor people = upstanding, progressive and perpetually victimized.)

What could have been just another mild restaging of the “jaded old rich folks picking up arms and hunting down humans” premise is, instead, given zesty new life thanks to the smarter-than-expected scripting efforts of relative unknowns Guy Busick & Ryan Murphy and the energetic directing efforts of newcomers-to-watch Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett (who contributed segments to the well-received horror anthologies V/H/S and Southbound).

As the film gets underway, we meet Grace (Australian actress Samara Weaving, who—despite certain evidence to the contrary—is not Margot Robbie). Grace is a pretty young gal who grew up poor and in foster homes. Her life has taken a major turn, however, as she’s about to marry Alex (Mark O’Brien of “Halt and Catch Fire” and “City on a Hill”). Alex is the heir to the fabulously wealthy Le Domas family, of board game fame and fortune. Following their storybook wedding at his family’s outrageously Gothic estate, Alex informs Grace that—in lieu of a honeymoon evening—she’s going to have to participate in the Le Domas family’s most sacred of traditions. Since, for generations, the family has made its money on board games, any new family member is (at the stroke of midnight, no less) required play one randomly chosen game in order to be accepted into the fold.

What Alex judiciously leaves out of his description is that the family’s great-great-grandfather actually locked down his fortune after a deal with the Devil. If the “randomly chosen” game turns out to be Hide and Seek, it’s played to the death, and the new family member must be sacrificed to Satan. Failure to do so—at least according to family lore—will result in the immediate death of every last Le Domas via burning hellfire (or something equally damnable).

Naturally, of course, Grace ends up getting stuck with Hide and Seek. Initially unaware of the game’s deadly outcome, she plays along—confused but amused. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that the sprawling mansion is a locked-down prison and that the various crossbows, dueling pistols and axes Alex’s relatives have equipped are real. In order to survive, Grace is going to have to fight back. Needless to say, her pretty antique wedding dress isn’t gonna stay white for long.

With its familiar story and single claustrophobic setting, Ready or Not could easily have been a deadly dull outing. But the script paints each member of the Le Domas family as a colorful kook, each with their own risably awful personality—from the witchy old aunt (Nicky Guadagni) to the depressive younger brother (Adam Brody) to the coke-addled sister (Melanie Scrofano) to the glamorous matriarch (Andie MacDowell in a fun turn). The direction also helps out immensely, racing forward like a broken roller coaster, sending audiences whiplashing through the film’s various twists and turns.

There’s nothing revelatory (or vaguely subtle) in the film’s blunt satire of rich weirdoes treating the poor like prey. But the film is a blast, nonetheless, delivering grim humor, zesty action and some ridiculously over-the-top gore. (The film is violent, all right. But the slapstick way in which various people are dispatched makes it far more silly than scary.) The cherry on top of this sundae bloody sundae is the obsessive, old-fashioned production design, which gives everything a glossy yet sinister antique polish. With its mix of old and new, familiar and unexpected, silly and shocking, Ready or Not ends up as an audaciously unconventional exercise in genre cinema that plays out like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as penned by Agatha Christie.