Ready or Not (2019) Review!!

Synopsis – A bride’s wedding night takes a sinister turn when her eccentric new in-laws force her to take part in a terrifying game.

My Take – The concept of the rich class hunting down humans for sport hasn’t been novel for a long time. Yet, the trope has found itself being remade by Hollywood numerous times, with some of the popular films being 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game, the Jean-Claude Van Damme led action thriller Hard Target, Japan’s dystopian thriller Battle Royale, the billion dollar franchise The Hunger Games and of course, the still ongoing The Purge series.

Films, which despite their different settings, all containing a recurring theme of how the rich consider killer the lower class an entertaining challenge, at least in comparison to animals.

However, the surprising call out from current U.S. president Donald Trump on releasing films that are actually very dangerous for the country, in response to the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, the genre, seems to be in jeopardy, with Universal’s The Hunt being the first film to be subsequently pulled from calendar, with no subsequent release date in place.

While the debate continues on whether humans hunting humans can be classified as entertainment, The Hunt‘s withdrawal from release, has led to this Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett directed film, to occupy its space, with a concept which can be relatable to most – spending time with your hellish in-laws.

This very entertaining horror comedy is just a good old-fashioned satirical revenge fantasy, set in one of those creaky historic mansions with fantastic, expansive, obsessively manicured grounds, the perfect sort of house in which to play hide-and-seek, especially with your twisted family.

But the real fun in the film comes from the ways it subverts its time-tested story, balancing wry commentary and straightforward horror in its portrait of fumbling arrogance and curdled privilege. Brimming with blood and body horror, with a sharp wit to match, this one is a delight of a film that lingers with you long after the credits have ended.

The story follows Grace (Samara Weaving), a beautiful and spunky bride-to-be marrying into the wealthy Le Domas family, who she hasn’t met until the wedding day. Growing up in foster homes, Grace is delighted to be joining a permanent family, and doesn’t really care whether or not they’re wealthy.

But the groom, Alex (Mark O’Brien) feels otherwise, and only agreed to host the wedding at his family’s estate because Grace wanted his family to witness their union.

The house is occupied by the Le Domas family, made their fortune on games, first they sold playing cards, during the Civil War, followed by more games and trinkets in subsequent generations. Now they’re fabulously wealthy, and the current patriarch Tony (Henry Czerny) and his wife Becky (Andie MacDowell) live in the sprawling estate, while Alex’s sibling’s Melanie (Melanie Scrofano) and Daniel (Adam Brody), have moved on with their respective spouses, Fitch Bradley (Kristian Bruun) and Charity (Elyse Levesque), and children.

But it is only after the wedding that things start to get truly weird. As Grace finds out that as part of her initiation to the family, they will all be gathering in the gaming room, at the stroke of midnight, where she’ll have to draw a card and play a game. What game? That’s up to the luck of the draw.

It could be chess or backgammon or Old Maid. But, Grace has the bad luck to draw Hide and Seek, kicking off a deadly ritual that pits the whole Le Domas family against her. To survive she must hide until dawn, and if they find her, they will kill her. They have crossbows, guns, and a battle-ax-wielding creepy Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni). While all Grace has are her wits and a wedding dress that will help and hurt her throughout the game.

Along the way, there will be scorching confrontations, deadly mishaps, and the kind of gleeful violence that makes horror lovers cheer. It’s a strange setup that explodes into something like a gory fable about the perils of too much money and greed, a morality tale and a savage romp rolled into one, with a blisteringly cathartic ending. What inspires the Le Domas family is a smart twist, which I’ll save for when you see the film.

Helming it all are directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who previously filmed spooky segments in ‘V/H/S’ (2012). Co-directed films are often tricky to establish a singular vision, but the duo impressively uses the hallways, beds, tables, countertops, dumb waiters and secret passageways as suspenseful devices.

Several scenes recall monster-in-the-house classics, like Steven Spielberg’s raptor kitchen scene in ‘Jurassic Park’ (1993). This is a film which could’ve easily been a bigger-budgeted, more spectacular-feeling action thriller, a sort of mini–Hunger Games, but the film’s smaller scale works to its benefit.

Here, both the directors make the film with a confident slickness that doesn’t rely on cheap jumps just to get a rise out of the crowd. Yet, as one would expect, the deaths are vicious and ridiculous. For example, one maid, eager to help her distraught employer find the missing bride, earns an arrow in her throat for her trouble. While the subject matter may seem bleak, the film strings visual comedic gags throughout the film.

The film’s humor also is a sharp reminder of how well horror and comedy go hand in hand. Both are all about the timing, and this film nails both comedic timing and jump scares and tension perfectly. Comedic horror is a tricky act, as you don’t want to sacrifice tension for a joke or have your jokes not land due to the screams, but the directors and screenwriters Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy balance it all very well.

However, amid its horror and humor, the film also find ways to weave in the underlying social commentary on class warfare between the privileged rich getting away with murder and the humble poor scratching and clawing to survive. And how wealth and poverty perverts the human soul.

Over and over, the film underlines the allure of selling your soul to join that more comfortable world, and that allure feels, as it always has, like a dark warning. Wealth is a blessing, or a curse, or maybe both. Those who’ve had nothing would rather be dead than return to that. Those who have it all will kill to keep it.

The only flaw I could point out here, was that despite its contained run time of 95 minutes, some of the scenes tend to get repetitive, and some seem to last too long. For example, the scene when Grace falls down through a hole, into a hellish depository where the corpses and skeletons of others who have died at the hands of the Le Domas family are rotting. Her attempts to climb out, which eventually results in bringing her injured hand down, full force, on a nail sticking up out of the ground, is just goes on too long for anyone’s comfort.

Without a doubt the biggest highlight of the film is Samara Weaving, who comes out with star making turn in a character you keep rooting for. Here, Weaving is a powerhouse, dominating every moment she’s on screen with screams of fury and a desperation that’s impossible to look away from.

Mark O’Brien manages to hold his own, while Melanie Scrofano, Henry Czerny, Kristian Bruun and Andie MacDowell are hilariously great. Adam Brody continues to add to his terrific work, while Elyse Levesque and Nicky Guadagni earn their moments. On the whole, ‘Ready or Not’ is an absurdly entertaining comedy horror that offers both screams and laughs in equal measure.

Directed – Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett

Starring – Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien

Rated – R

Run Time – 95 minutes

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