Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Ready or Not is one of the most absurd and brazenly entertaining horror films I’ve seen in a long while. Even categorising it into the horror genre alone feels like I’m underselling how eccentric it is. We follow Grace (Samara Weaving), a former foster child, who’s marrying Alex de Lomas (Mark O’Brien). He’s a member of an extremely wealthy family, who have made their immense fortune via their gaming empire. They seem normal and friendly until Grace finds out that they have an odd post-wedding ritual: at midnight after the wedding day, the new member of the family must play a game. Grace draws hide-and-seek. However, it’s not your usual hide-and-seek through a gothic mansion. If she isn’t killed before dawn, death awaits the whole de Lomas family.
What Ready or Not does, is expertly walk a tonal tightrope. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett have to harness a tone which would’ve been very difficult to consistently maintain. It’s such an absurd concept, that there has to be a level of irreverence and knowingness of how crazy it is. Yet, the film still has to have an impact viscerally while taking Grace’s horrific cat-and-mouse situation seriously. Yes, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, but the body horror still feels impactful and there’s real tension on show throughout.
While this may be billed as a horror film, it really is a fantastic black comedy first-and-foremost. Screenwriters Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murray never try to make their material more serious than it needs to be. It could’ve been bogged down by tacked-on and unsubtle social commentary surrounding the rich, but the focus remained on how insane the de Lomas family is. Yes, there’s really fun jabs at their wealth throughout, but it doesn’t halt the film, and instead adds to the film’s darkly humorous exterior.
The film’s humour and critique of the wealthy wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does if it wasn’t for the distinct personalities that the de Lomas’ have. Along with the supposedly down-to-earth Alex, there’s the chaotic patriarch (Henry Czerny), the failed son who isn’t on board with his family’s crazy ways (Adam Brody), the matriarch with the kind façade (Andie MacDowell), the mean aunt (Nicky Guadagni) and the cocaine-addicted sister (Melanie Scrofano). They’re an outlandish family, but it’s how vapid and incompetent they are in contrast to their lavish and uptight image which makes them so enjoyable to watch as antagonists.
Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are two-thirds of the directing team known as ‘Radio Silence’, having worked on anthology horror films VHS and Southbound with their only credit as a duo being the critically derided Devil’s Due. What they’re able to do with Ready or Not is balance grit and levity perfectly. There’s a standout scene in a barn where the visceral, gory elements really come into play. Their visual direction is more anchored by grounded handheld than kinetic flashiness which works for a film that’s set largely in a mansion—where they can really use the grand gothic space to their advantage. The film opens with a long Steadicam shot through the mansion, and you know from that point that it’s a space which is going to be used to its full advantage.
While this is a fun horror/comedy as a whole, it’s Samara Weaving’s show, and she delivers a performance which immediately cements her as a bona fide star. As soon as Weaving comes on screen, she’s an incredibly charismatic presence. She endows Grace with a real sense of sharp wit and likeability and she also excels in the more physically demanding scenes—which there are many of. It’s the definition of a star-making performance. The shot of Grace in her wedding dress, torn at the bottom revealing a pair of Chuck Taylors while holding a shotgun with bullets strapped to her chest, deserves to go into the horror movie hall of fame as an instantly iconic moment. It also says a lot about Grace as a character. She’s a woman who’s had to fight her whole life, in comparison to the family that’s been mollycoddled by their own wealth and privilege. That’s what gives her the upper hand in this scenario and what makes Grace such an engrossing and likable protagonist. I’d argue Weaving also has one of the best horror movie screams…ever.
Her star-making turn shouldn’t detract from how much fun the rest of the cast is having and how they completely understand the bonkers material they’re given. The perennially underappreciated Henry Czerny is gloriously over-the-top as the de Lomas patriarch, and Andie MacDowell and Adam Brody bring sparks of pathos into the proceedings. In a film loaded with cartoonish archetypes, there’s just enough humanity to make the film work on a more serious level.
I wouldn’t exactly call Ready or Not ‘scary’ by definition, but I’d argue that wasn’t Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett’s primary intention. It’s also not a piece of social commentary in the way Jordan Peele’s Us was, earlier this year. It’s a warped, heightened and absurdly entertaining film which focuses on dark comedy first, but is still loaded with grit and has enjoyable flashes of tension. It’s so great to see a film that is self-aware but isn’t smug, and it insists this to the audience. It lets the absurdity of its proceedings do the talking. Brian Tyler’s score can sometimes feel a bit too loud and bombastic considering the low budget feeling the film exudes, but it doesn’t stop the film from possessing real energy, charm—and above all—personality. Weaving lends Grace a real sense of scrappiness and that in turn only enhances how great she is as a protagonist.
Sometimes, extended families can be hard to be around, but I doubt most would be this sinister. Lesson learned: don’t play hide-and-seek if asked!
Ready or Not is in cinemas now.