Poking fun at the rituals of the oldest and wealthiest families you could find, ‘Ready or Not’ is best when at its funniest.
Grace (Samara Weaving) is introduced to the audience sitting in front of a mirror, doing her own makeup on the day of her wedding. She is stunning from the moment we see her, almost angelic with her porcelain skin, white dress, blonde hair, and blue eyes. As she practices her vows, she begins to look out of the window of her soon-to-be in-law’s house at the yard where the wedding is being set up, slowly adding more vows about how she promises to stay by the family through sickness and health, through crazy rich people problems and drama that she doesn’t understand. When her future husband, Alex (Mark O’Brien), sneaks a peek at his bride before the wedding, he confirms that his family is indeed strange. And over the course of the next 24 hours at the family estate that makes up the entirety of Ready or Not, Grace learns that Alex wasn’t exaggerating.
A devilish horror-comedy with an anti-capitalist bent, Ready or Not is the cinematic answer to shows like Succession and Billions that look at the “problems” of the extremely wealthy. But this film is unlike how Billions’ Bobby Axelrod throws poor people and money at problems until they go away, or how the Roy family from Succession bicker with one another about petty squabbles while the world burns around them. Instead, Ready or Not is about a family that does everything in their power to preserve their wealth. It just so happens that for the Le Domas family at the center of this film, power is maintained by human sacrifice every so often.
As Grace attempts to survive the night, she deals with the increasingly convoluted plans of her new family. There is the patriarch Tony (Henry Czerny) and his wife Becky (Andie MacDowell) who force everyone to play there game. There’s Alex’s alcoholic brother Danny (Adam Brody) and his far-too-intense wife Charity (Elyse Levesque), as well as the youngest sister Emilie (Melanie Scrofano) and her husband (Kristian Bruun) and two kids. And also floating around is Tony’s sister, the devastatingly funny and entirely too-malicious Helene (Nicky Guadagni, delivering the film’s greatest performance). And as the family members armor themselves up with Civil War-era weapons as their mansion is put into lockdown mode, Grace does everything in her power to survive until dawn.
Ready or Not is at its best when leaning deep into the satirical side of the horror-comedy spectrum. It also continues a summer 2019 trend of making the male lead of horror movies into entitled jerks who mistreat their partners, here executed for comedy instead of Midsommar’s tragedy. But the script from first-time collaborators Guy Busick and (a different) Ryan Murphy feels as though it was written either purely a comedy or horror film first and then rebuilt. Shoddy editing hides a number of seams in the film, with dialogue that explains whatever the heck is going on being shoehorned in occasionally. As the film gets into its back half and leans deeper into the survive-the-night kind of horror it is selling, it loses some of the madcap energy and satire of the 1% that made the film special in the first place.
Even with the script’s more basic problems, the directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett (V/H/S, Southbound) know how to make a stylish horror film that also embraces the campy energy that the script is providing. Constant — and creative — uses of swearing and lines like Aunt Helene greeting Emilie with “Brown-haired niece… you continue to exist” lean deep into the comedy, and the viscera and gore bring the thrills. This is not a movie for families, that much is certain.
A perfect version of Ready or Not probably exists somewhere in the editing room, and it would probably have given Andie MacDowell much more to do and would have sewn deeper the social commentary on wealth in America, particularly in how the film treats Grace. As good as Weaving is in the lead role, I couldn’t help but feel like she didn’t fit the descriptions of blue-blooded American — particularly when her native Australian accent slips through. But as it is now, Ready or Not is a fun romp that should work as a great palate cleanser from the blockbusters of the past few months. Either to escape the late August heat or to see a fully entertaining horror movie, you could do much worse.
(I would advise skipping the trailer if my review sold you on the film)
Ready or Not is in theaters August 21st. It stars Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, with Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell. Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett