“Ready or Not” exemplifies the type of genre-bending joyride that too many horror films forget that they can be. The concept — a murderous game of hide and seek — has both thrills and comedy baked into the premise, and the lively cast of character actors lean into the knowingly silly premise. Riding the line between slapstick and post-modern schlock, this cat-and-mouse adventure invites a specific audience that enjoys adult-themed tomfoolery and light-hearted ultra-violence.
Samara Weaving stars as Grace, the nervous bride who marries into a wealthy family by way of her new husband Alex (Mark O’Brien). After a chilly outdoor wedding filled with side-eye and stifled judgment from the groom’s elders, the night concludes with a mysterious game of hide and seek, in which Alex’s kin are compelled to hunt his wife down and murder her by dawn or else the spirit of their family heir will kill the whole group in retaliation. It’s all very complicated, but what is unspoken by the characters throughout the film is an underlying message about how class and status often determine empathy.
Half the fun of this screwball splatter-fest is the magic-shop-meets-escape-room nature of the mansion where most of the story takes place. We’re led through hidden corridors, trap doors and dark corners all throughout the house. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are conscious of their camera placement and the editing choices that allow the audience to familiarize themselves with the maze-like environment. Occasionally, the shaky camera exhibited during the more intense moments of action threw me out of the campy design and jaunty tone of the picture, but the moody lighting and the Gothic décor keeps the style consistent and visually engaging.
The antiqued set design and baroque look of film packages this high concept experience nicely but it’s the eclectic cast that ultimately ensures that it works as a story. Adam Brody as Alex’s skeptical brother Daniel brings a little bit of likability to the group of heartless killers. Andie MacDowell’s heel turn as the groom’s pragmatic mother underlines the movie’s subversive sarcasm. Kristian Bruun steals entire scenes as the bumbling brother-in-law, and Henry Czerny as the family’s smarmy rich father subtly plays his role like a satanic Mitt Romney.
However, it’s Weaving who carries the picture, effortlessly balancing scenes of shock, fear, animalistic survivalist rage and witty gallows humor. Those who enjoyed Weaving in 2017’s Netflix Original “The Babysitter” will attest that she’s more than just a discount Margot Robbie.
The social commentary in “Ready or Not” isn’t particularly deep or examined in way that elevates the project beyond its genre trappings, but I always admire a film that achieves exactly what it sets out to do. This is a pop-horror delight that gestures toward class consciousness and explores similar themes as last year’s hit rom-com “Crazy Rich Asians.” The difference being, this vicious take on hostile in-laws will satisfy the cult fans who appreciate 1980s slasher films, “The Adams Family” and Amanda Palmer’s make-up tutorials.
Cassidy Robinson is a former Idaho State University student with a master’s degree in film studies from Orange County’s Chapman University. He is currently working as a media journalist in Los Angeles, California.