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.
Stars: Samara Weaving, Andie MacDowell, Mark O’Brien, Adam Brody, Henry Czerny, Nicky Guadagni
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
Running Length: 95 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Plenty of people are planning end of summer bashes to celebrate the highs and lows of the last few months. After all, before it’s time to settle into more serious fall endeavors, it’s nice to be able to blow off some steam with a devil-may-care bit of frivolity. When Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw barreled into theaters a few weeks back, I thought that would be the fun party to send a rather middling summer off with a bang…but it turns out there was one final blowout waiting around the corner. Though it was made for a fraction of the budget of the majority of movies released over the past three months, Ready or Not bests them all with its dark sense of humor and creativity.
As I mentioned in my review of the spoiler-heavy trailer for Ready or Not, I was nervous going in the filmmakers had given away too much of the plot too soon. Coming out on the other side of the credits I can say that yes, some fun moments have been diminished if you’ve been exposed to the preview too often but, surprisingly, it didn’t lessen the impact the movie had overall. While some horror movies released to theaters are perfectly fine to pass on in favor of waiting for home consumption, this is one of the rare cases of a genre title you would benefit from seeing in a theater packed with like-minded individuals out for a good time. My audience ate it up and I’ll bet would be willing to come back for seconds.
At a trim 95 minutes, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett waste no time introducing us to Grace (Samara Weaving, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) as she rehearses her vows before her wedding. Marrying the estranged scion of wealthy family that made their fortune off board games and other profitable endeavors, she can already tell her in-laws will be a handful. An orphan that grew up in the foster care system, she loves her fiancé Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien, Bad Times at the El Royale) and is willing to put up with a few days of weirdness at the massive Le Domas estate in exchange for a lifetime of happiness and the promise of a permanent family. With their engagement, Alex has returned to his family with his bride-to-be in tow and though his mother (Andie MacDowell, Magic Mike XXL) is happy to have her son back the rest of the family seems curiously on edge.
Later that evening, before the bride and groom can enjoy their first night together, Alex lets Grace know about a family tradition all new members must go through at the stroke of midnight. Grace will have to play a game with them, a game to be chosen through a secret ceremony, and while she initially laughs off this requirement as another Le Domas quirk, the actualities of what await her are the stuff nightmares (and entertaining horror films) are made of. Unfortunately for Grace, the game she’s selected to play is the deadliest one of all and it sets the stage for a hunt that takes no prisoners and might not leave any survivors. You see, the Le Domas family is no ordinary self-made clan but one that came to their status with a little…help. It’s this assistance the family is willing to kill to protect and before she knows it, Grace is playing hide and seek from a pack of vicious psychos with varying degrees of bloodlust.
Surprisingly, first time feature screenwriters Guy Busick & Ryan Murphy (no, not that Ryan Murphy) manage to pack an amazing amount of exposition and ideas in without slowing down the action too much. There’s an astounding array of backstory and context provided and it all makes sense in a weird, twisted way. The characters they’ve etched out are kooky but deadly and, when put in the hands of a game ensemble of actors, spring to life. You never are quite sure if all the family members are playing the game or playing along and that helps extend the mystery surrounding the origin of the game longer than I expected it to. With the huge mansion’s hidden passages and shadowy hallways, you feel just as in the moment as Grace does, not knowing who will pop out when or what awaits her around the next corner. Or what weapon they’ll be wielding.
Weaving is well-cast as Grace, ably taking on the pursued with a mixture of strength and fragility. Though she’s running for her life around the house and grounds in her increasingly tattered wedding dress, she always has an air of, well, grace about her and that makes her an endearing heroine. It helps that she’s not been written like a limp noodle, obviously drawing from her self-sufficient past to steel herself in the present fighting off these family fiends. O’Brien, too, works well as the son knowing the secrets of his family but hoping his new bride can overcome years of passed down history and stay alive. MacDowell and Henry Czerny had some good moments as Alex’s parents but the film is continually stolen by Nicky Guadagni as Aunt Helene, a scowling shock-haired relative who doesn’t have time to mince words. Guadagni has some incredibly well-timed line deliveries and is at the center of the film’s biggest shocker and most satisfying moment.
Obviously working on a small budget, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett stretch their monies to give Ready or Not a handsome and gothic-lite look. Filming in Canada and using a number of local actors and crew, they’ve also invested wisely in stand-out make-up effects that give the blood and violence an extra amount of oomph. There are two scenes of gore in particular that I had to watch through squinted eyes. Even their finale managed to stay true to the tone of what came before, finding a well-timed laugh amidst an unexpected bit of shock and mayhem. While I would have wanted perhaps a bit more polish on the film as a whole, particularly in the final act, I left the theater wholly satisfied and ready to play this game again. I can see this one having high replay value and Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are clearly a team that will rise in demand for more clever work in this genre.