REVIEW: Ready or Not [2019]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 95 minutes
    Release Date: August 21st, 2019 (USA)
    Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
    Director(s): Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
    Writer(s): Guy Busick & Ryan Murphy

You picked the one bad card.

All Grace (Samara Weaving) has ever wanted since bouncing around foster homes during her adolescence was a permanent family to call her own. With Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien) that dream has become a reality. He wasn’t interested in a big wedding since he’d been estranged from those back home who lived in the lap of astronomical wealth’s luxury due to a gaming empire begun by his great-grandfather, but he relented to fulfill her wish. Alex could see it as one solitary evening of festivities before finally leaving them all behind forever if it meant Grace was happy. He could easily diffuse the awkwardness of Dad (Henry Czerny‘s Tony) and Aunt Helene’s (Nicky Guadagni) menacing looks, guide his bride through an odd family tradition, and say his goodbyes.

What looked “odd” on paper, however, quickly turns violent once the cultish ritual of playing a game at midnight on Grace and Alex’s wedding night reveals the custom’s worst possible scenario. Whereas the groom’s sister (Melanie Scrofano‘s Emilie) and brother-in-law (Kristian Bruun‘s Fitch) had to play a card game and his brother (Adam Brody‘s Daniel) and sister-in-law (Elyse Levesque‘s Charity) chess, the mysterious box serving as a stand-in for a silent but crucial partner to the Le Domas’ success places “Hide and Seek” in Grace’s palm. Rather than simply enjoy any other activity that might have been selected in its place, this specific event calls for a sacrifice. It’s not enough then for the family to find the new member of their tribe. They must also kill her.

Ready or Not isn’t merely a romp wherein the entrenched rich willingly push morality aside to retain their way of life (trying to murder Grace guarantees her going to the police if she escapes) opposite an outsider unversed in their warped sense of normalcy, though. Writers Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy alongside directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have also instilled a rather detailed mythology to complement this sadism. Doing so ensures that some of those living under the Le Domas name don’t actually want to follow through with the demands set forth decades ago. Alex obviously wants to save the woman he loves, but nobody else besides Helene is necessarily wishing for that card to be drawn. Once it is pulled, however, a choice must be made.

It’s here that the potential for intrigue reaches its pinnacle because every character has his/her reasons for being in this house and deciding to play along. Some have married into it after less prosperous existences (including Andie MacDowell‘s matriarch Becky) while those born into the “curse” have been given opportunities to take a step back and recognize that the way they were raised wasn’t like anyone else. Despite “Hide and Seek” never having been pulled in any of their lifetimes, other rules provided by the family’s pact with the unseen Mr. Le Bail have introduced homicide into their memories regardless. So when weapon malfunctions occur (they can only use those tools to which Great-Grandpa Victor had access) to maim or kill a bystander, no one is adversely affected.

This is key because we need Grace as the sole outlier truly disturbed by what’s happening so she can become our surrogate into the carnage. To therefore watch these affluent psychopaths toss aside bodies like it’s no big deal while hunting her down allows her (and us) to harden to the stakes. What started as a crazed attempt to survive settles into the reality of kill or be killed. Grace can no longer just bide her time until sunrise. She has to take the fight to them: family, employees, and children alike. She must make this as difficult on them as possible because doing so exposes their inherent inexperience with murder. Agreeing to commit it in exchange for wealth and power proves a far cry from actually acting.

The possibilities are thus endless where prolonging the inevitable is concerned. Whether the filmmakers draw one character as a drug-addict devoid of accuracy, another vain enough to think avoidance will keep them away from the action, or someone else prone to compounding guilt, the way in which each talks has little bearing on their reaction when confronted with the chance to walk away. Busick and Murphy push their socio-economic commentary through metaphor to amplify this (the night really comes down to the selfish utilitarian desire to step on those who are what you once were in order to retain the superiority your new façade supplies as a shield against remembering you’re still that person) until the odds that Grace dies run about even with her coming out victorious.

That uncertainty is Ready or Not‘s best attribute because we’re constantly in the dark. Will so-and-so assist Grace or throw her to the wolves? Will the threat of their own demise upon failing to kill her be confirmed or a demented delusion that transformed them into monsters via psychological coercion? Will Grace’s kindness be a liability or will her scrappy childhood allow her to kick ass when the moment demands? The simple inclusion of a long, silent beat where everyone holds their breath at the realization of what “Hide and Seek” means sets the film apart from its brethren because it allows for nuance in lieu of cold-blooded malice. And making each choose monstrousness in the moment can’t help developing into an even scarier commentary on our nation’s growing complicity.

With an excellent supporting cast keeping our interest, there’s fun to be had around every corner. My wishing the whole leaned even more towards those comedic flourishes (things are for the most part steeped in drama despite the oft sojourn into broad humor like a dying body perpetually interrupting Guadagni’s over-the-top speech soaked in bloodlust) only speaks to their effectiveness. When the butler (John Ralston) steals scenes with a smugly satisfying sense of self-worth, you know you’ve created a scenario that’s entertaining from start to finish. And when your protagonist proves equal parts badass and vulnerable (Weaving is great at the former but excellent at the latter—especially at the end), you can let the rest loose knowing Grace will keep things grounded. What’s not to like?

[1] Samara Weaving in the film READY OR NOT. Photo by Eric Zachanowich. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved
[2] Adam Brody and Henry Czerny in the film READY OR NOT. Photo by Eric Zachanowich. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved
[3] (From L-R:) Kristian Bruun, Melanie Scrofano, Andie MacDowell, Henry Czerny, Nicky Guadagni, Adam Brody, and Elyse Levesque in the film READY OR NOT. Photo by Eric Zachanowich. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

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