“Are you ready for this?” the groom asks his bride. “Oh fuck no,” she tells him. Truer words were ne’er spoken: Ready or Not is one of the most refreshing and spry horror movies in recent memory, breathing new life into the classic Most Dangerous Game genre and making that classic tale of literal class warfare into a biting contemporary satire.
The latest film from Radio Silence (a.k.a. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett with EP Chad Villella) throws Samara Weaving (Mayhem) into a bridal gown and then into the cavernous hallways of a decadent estate, where her new and fabulously wealthy in-laws are hunting her for sport. If they catch her she will be sacrificed to the mysterious Mr. Le Bail, the man responsible for their unholy amount of wealth in the first place. If she survives… something extremely terrible will happen. Probably. Nobody knows for sure but they sure as hell don’t want to risk it.
It’s a simple, mean-spirited set-up. The working class addition to the family, scorned by half of her in-laws and well-liked by the rest, picks a game at random and if it’s “Hide and Seek,” the play for keeps. Centuries old implements of destruction are handed out to every member of the Le Domas family as they get ready to hunt their prey. Never mind how to actually use them. You can always look up how to fire a crossbow on YouTube.
There’s so much that Ready or Not gets right that’s it hard to decide where to begin. The production design is impeccable, with labyrinthine avarice every which way, and secret corridors abound. The lighting by Brett Jutkiewicz (Them That Follow) is eerily Kubrickian. The pace is quick and the suspense is palpable. The whole damn movie looks gorgeous and plays like a dream.
The script by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy takes what could have been a simple genre exercise and infuses it with fabulous personality and vicious satire about the cult of wealth. The Le Domas family can’t keep their billions without killing SOMEBODY, and we soon find out that they’re not alone, and that lots of other billionaires (maybe even all of them) operate under similar rules. It’s been said that money is the root of all evil, but Ready or Not argues that evil is the root of all money. A simplistic allegory, certainly, but one that makes for a subversive and timeless satire.
One of the cleverest tricks Ready or Not pulls is giving the villains of the film just as much humanity as the heroine. They don’t want to kill Grace any more than she wants to die (well, maybe a few of them do) and their desperation and inexperience takes the stuffing out of all their obvious elitism. They’re a bunch of hapless boobs who, in another film, would have been likable leads all by themselves. Instead, they’re like the cast of an ultraviolent remake of Clue, and if that’s not a glowing recommendation what is?
As wonderful as Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Adam Brody and the rest of Ready or Not’s ensemble are, Weaving is the glue that holds this film together. It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen her work already, but Samara Weaving is a godsend to genre cinema. There’s no other actor working today who captures the severity of life-or-death situations with a hilarious understanding of how absurd her life has suddenly become. She’s funny without ever sacrificing the immediacy and reality of the horror. Every reaction she has in Ready or Not is priceless and revealing. She’s a bonafide horror superstar and this is her breakout.
Ready or Not may, unless you’re a REALLY huge fan of Avengers: Endgame, be the best film Disney is associated with this year. It’s a vibrant, funny, insightful horror film that speaks to our collective frustration with class divide without dehumanizing anybody on either side. It speaks to the evils of avarice and the moral fuzziness that often results from inheriting, instead of earning, wealth. And perhaps most importantly it’s just a corker of a horror-comedy, with memorable characters and laugh out loud set pieces and gruesome acts of violence and delightfully wicked performances.