There is something inherently political about the events in Ready or Not, which tells of a group of wealthy white folk (known as the family Le Domas) who blindly follow tradition regardless of consequence. The Le Domas ritual has the elite family playing a postnuptial game that targets the newlywed joining into the family. The game could be as harmless as chess, but the card that poor new bride Grace (Samara Weaving, The Babysitter) picks lands on Hide and Seek, and she’s soon on the run from a family determined to hunt her down with archaic weaponry.
Who’ll get the kill? Will it be the sister-in-law in the kitchen with a crossbow? The brother-in-law with a hunting rifle? Or perhaps the scowling Auntie in the bedroom with an axe? While sounding like suspects from a game of Cluedo, these in-laws are some of the many foes facing bona fide Aussie Scream-Queen Samara Weaving in this delightful horror-comedy.
In a time with horror films taking themselves oh-so seriously, discussing very real topics like toxic relationships (Midsommar) and race (Us), Ready or Not never forgets to be enjoyable first and topical second. This is a film willing to tackle issues around classism, but directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Devil’s Due) never allow the subtext to overpower the film’s fun nature. It is self-aware without being ostentatious, tense without being all that scary, and bloody without being too gory (well… kinda).
Writers Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy allow fast, quippy dialogue to enable Ready or Not with an irreverent sense of humour. Dropping romantic gestures during moments of sheer terror is where Ready or Not draws some of its funniest moments, a kind effort by the filmmakers to allow the audience to catch their breath before throwing them back into the suspense wringer.
It become clear quickly that abduction and murder are as foreign to the Le Domas’ as the economy class section of an airplane. Their attempts to capture newlywed Grace (Weaving) are as though schemed by the Bluth family à la Arrested Development. Despite their ‘richer-than-god’ affluence, the Le Domas’ show signs of personal turmoil brought about by festering insecurities hidden underneath luxurious finery. They may be rich, but they are not problem-free. Their sheer ridiculousness provides a parody on aristocracy that sets Ready or Not up as one of the funniest horror flicks in recent memory, a feat that comes together by an elaborate production design and Brett Jutkiewicz’s dimly-lit cinematography.
Weaving’s star-making lead performance is joyful to watch from start to finish. Her transformation from unassuming figure, feeling like she is on borrowed ground marrying into a wealthy family, to hardened survivor is mesmerising. Though Grace’s character trajectory is quintessential horror-heroine, the charismatic Weaving sells it with an endearing intensity. This millennial-AF bride has found herself in hell, and she’s determined to leave.
As the mother-in-law to our victim, Andie MacDowell proves to be a standout amongst an impressive supporting cast, delivering a well-rounded character whose compassion is as nefarious as it is sincere. (Certain characters serve no purpose other than death, but we shall excuse that). If you thought a game of Twister was the most uncomfortable game you could play with your in-laws, perhaps you best avoid game night over at the Le Domas’.
Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have iconography on their hands with Grace’s battle armour; a Victorian-era wedding dress being emblematic of her struggle throughout the film. No amount of stain remover could make this dress white again. This clothing’s journey throughout Ready or Not – serving both functional and weaponry purposes – is but one element that showcases strong thematic and narrative throughlines by the filmmakers. If only this type of careful consideration was applied to the film’s out-of-place superstitious elements, which – while not too detrimental – don’t quite gel and feel like tacked-on afterthoughts.
Ready or Not might be 2019’s most entertaining horror movie. The film services both horror enthusiasts and overall moviegoers looking for a great time out, all the while providing assurance that, yes, somewhere in the world there are scarier in-laws than yours.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★★☆
‘Ready or Not’ opened in Australian cinemas on October 24 and in the US on August 21.