A film review by Craig J. Koban August 31, 2019

READY OR NOT jjj
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2019, R, 95 mins.

 

Samara Weaving as Grace  /  Andie MacDowell as Becky Le Domas  /  Mark O'Brien as Alex Le Domas  /  Adam Brody as Daniel Le Domas  /  Henry Czerny as Tony Le Domas  /  Nicky Guadagni as Helene Le Domas  /  Melanie Scrofano as Emilie Le Domas  /  Kristian Bruun as Fitch Bradley  /  Elyse Levesque as Charity Le Domas  /  

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett   /  Written by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy

 

 

 

Just when you thought that the summer film season was all but over and done along comes READY OR NOT to emerge as one of the season's real eleventh hour diamond in the rough delights.  

This viscerally nasty, but darkly hysterical screwball horror comedy benefits greatly from two things: (1) a wickedly nifty premise and (2) one of the most thanklessly committed genre performances of the summer (if not the year) by newcomer Samara Weaving, who runs the absolute emotional and physical gauntlet here in a very tricky role that requires a unique mixture of deadpan comic delivery, wounded vulnerability, and gritty, teeth clenched tenacity.  READY OR NOT will certainly not be everyone's cup of tea (it's perhaps too barbarically violent and ghastly for some), but there's no denying how slickly produced it is as a relentlessly intense and preposterously entertaining package.    

Weaving (who looks astonishingly like Margot Robbie...it's positively uncanny) plays Grace, a bride-to-be that's hopelessly in love with her fiancé, Alex (Mark O'Brien), who's a part of a larger and unfathomably wealthy family that has made a name for themselves as the makers of many beloved board games (in this film's world their product is as common place as anything made by Milton Bradley or Parker Brothers in our own).  "I honestly can't wait to be a part of your fucked up family" she drolly lashes out at Alex just before their wedding ceremony, words that would come to haunt her later.  The Le Domas family that she's about to join has a motley crew of colorful eccentrics, like the alcoholic brother, Daniel (Adam Brody), the pragmatic mother (Andie MacDowell), the creepy aunt (Nicky Guadagni) and the soft spokenly stern father (Henry Czerny).  Grace has politely tolerated this clan in order to secure and tighten her bond with Alex, but she's no gold digger.  She genuinely loves this man, despite his family's overall coldness while around her. 

 

 

The wedding ceremony goes off without much of a hitch at the Le Doma family mansion's grounds, but just when Grace and Alex are about to consummate it his steely eye aunt shows up to spoil the mood by cryptically informing him that there's "one last ritual" that needs to be performed before dawn.  That pesky Alex forgot to mention to the increasingly inquisitive Grace that his family has...shall we say...a right of passage challenge that every newcomer must partake in to officially become a real part of then.  At a vast dinning table with the entire family in tow, Grace is given a strange box that will grant her a playing card that will indicate what game she must play and win to become one with the Le Domas.  Her card reads "Hide and Seek", which makes her giggle at its innocence, but everyone else in the room gasps like they've just seen a ghost.  Grace gleefully partakes and begins to hide, but she soon realizes, to her absolute horror, that this is not mere childish game of Hide and Seek when it's revealed that all of her in-laws are armed to the teeth with weapons and are trying to murder her as part of this game. 

Worst.  Honeymoon.  Ever. 

The hook of READY OR NOT is pretty tantalizing.  Part of the sinful pleasure of watching this film early on is to witness Grace naively taking part in this game without initially and fully understanding that it's a part of some sort of demented satanic ritual the family must conduct to ensure the bride's death by dawn...or face certain death themselves by some unknown force or entity.  Obviously, when Grace sees her cocaine addicted sister-in-law (Melanie Scrofano) accidentally murder a maid with her hunting weapon of choice she fully realizes the danger she's in.  Grace becomes no mere damsel in distress, though, that her concerned hubby will save.  She goes into John McClane cat and mouse mode in learning the layout of the house, finding proper hiding spots, arming herself, and ultimately defending her life no matter what the insane cost.  Alex is left anxiously waiting in the balance, who doesn't want his new wife killed by his ritualistic family, but at the same time can't bring himself to overtly betray them either.  Much of the dark humor of READY OR NOT comes at the expense of poor Grace's shocking discoveries about the sheer madness that surrounds her alongside seeing this family mentally unravel when each attempt to kill her comes up short. 

The pulpy grindhouse premise of the film has a bit more thematically going on under the hood as the narrative progresses, and directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are simultaneously trying to make a blood curdling and brain splattered Gothic Horror slasher flick alongside a scathing satiric comedy about wealthy people that really, really abuse their sense of privilege.  We all know the casual expression of how those in power metaphorically get away with murder, but READY OR NOT takes that adage to literal levels in showing the limitless insanity of those in power and how they will stop at nothing to ensure their way of life...even if it means using Grace as a sacrifice in a barbaric ritual.  There's an uneasy undercurrent of dread regarding the relationship between the haves and the have nots in the world that punctuates this film, with Grace being of the one per centers and the Le Domas family occupying the opposite side of the economic ladder, only being sadistic sociopaths on top of being self absorbed snobs.  Beyond that, READY OR NOT is a  snarky commentary piece on marriage itself and the lengths that brides will go to in order to fit in...and boy...Grace really goes through the ringer here for the sake of future harmony with her husband. 

Weaving is, as mentioned, the absolute key to holding this beyond nutty film together.  The Australian actress (niece of Hugo), has this adept manner of harnessing the lurid comedic elements of her character's nightmarish predicament while maintaining an authentic level of panic induced fright at the same time.  But this is also a performance of intense and raw physicality as well, as Grace has her mind, body and soul thrown into one ghoulish ordeal after another (one involving a pit and an exposed nail will have people cringing well before the preordained payoff).  Most importantly, Weaving evokes an effortless charm and appeal here too on top of looking monumentally badass when, for example, finally securing herself a bandolier and shotgun (a twisted visual juxtaposition with her dirty and blood covered wedding dress).  This is a star making performance if there ever was one, and the manner that Weaving gives layers and dimension to a role that could have devolved into one-note victim with a lesser actress at the helm. 

Mad props to some of the supporting actors as well, especially the fly-in-under-the-radar Brody, who nicely underplays his role of the family man and brother to Alex that understands that his relatives are indeed mad, but pathetically knows that he can't go against their will.  Complimenting the performances is the way the film offers up such a ridiculous and out-there premise by never taking the road most traveled approach with it (just when you think you know exactly where it's headed...it doesn't take that path and defies expectations).  Still, READY OR NOT isn't a perfect thrill ride, mostly because its third act is no way near as fiendishly clever as its first two thirds of build up, and it's final moments goes for pure grotesque shock value.  But, holy hell, did I ever surprisingly enjoy the ride that this film took me on, and READY OR NOT is equal parts hysterical, frightening, sickening, and clever.  The film sneaks up on you in unsuspecting ways and has fun working within horror troupes while giddily subverting them, making it one of summer film season's best curveball thrown surprises.   

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