Thursday, August 22, 2019

Review: Ready or Not (2019)

Ready or Not (2019)

Rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughout, and some drug use

Score: 4 out of 5

A couple of weeks ago, Universal indefinitely delayed the September release of The Hunt, a horror movie in which a group of elitist rich people coded as "limousine liberals" kidnap a bunch of working-class, salt-of-the-Earth folk and hunt them for sport. Part of it was due to sensitivity in the wake of a pair of back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, part of it was due to a truly strange backlash led by Fox News that misinterpreted who the villains in the above scenario were supposed to be (in case the trailer didn't make it obvious). Well, never fear, fans of "hunting the most dangerous game" movies, because The Hunt's rival, a smaller film called Ready or Not, comes out this weekend with a similar plot and more or less similar "snobs vs. snobs" overtones (albeit minus The Hunt's more overtly political angle). And it's actually pretty damn good! Not a very substantial movie, but still violently entertaining, packing a great heroine and sense of humor about itself. It's not a particularly scary movie, but I got the sense that it wasn't trying to be that; instead, it's a slick B-movie, and it pulls that off remarkably well.

Grace has just married Alex Le Domas, the scion of a wealthy family that made its fortune with playing cards and board games, at his family's home. An odd couple, the two of them, what with Grace having been raised in the foster system and being about as rough around the edges as that may sound -- a fact that is not lost on the rest of his family, not least of all Alex's snobbish aunt Helene. Shortly after the wedding, the family invites Grace to partake in a long-running wedding tradition they have: they will play a parlor game with the newest member of the family at the stroke of midnight. Unfortunately, when Grace draws the card to select the game, it turns out to be "hide and seek". And in this family, hide and seek has a very different meaning: after Grace is given a head start, the rest of the family, save for Alex (who understandably doesn't want to see his wife die), hunt her down with an assortment of old-fashioned weapons, including crossbows, spear guns, derringer pistols, and axes. The Le Domases take this tradition very seriously; after all, a hundred years ago, the patriarch who built their fortune made a deal with the Devil to ensure his family's success, and every so often, the Devil demands a sacrifice.

The plot exists mainly as a vehicle for blood and mayhem. There aren't any big twists, just the fact that the Le Domases are willing to turn against anyone who threatens to get between them and their fortune. They are not sympathetic in the slightest, even before you consider the fact that they're sacrificing the bride to Satan: Charity and Becky are snobs who married into the family and are willing to kill to keep the wealth they came into, Helene is an elitist who thinks that Grace will never really be part of the family, and Fitch and Emilie are incompetent doofuses, the former unable to figure out how to use his crossbow and the latter a cokehead who's the subject of a running gag in which she accidentally kills the maids. Alex and Daniel, who we see in the prologue having witnessed a similar "hide and seek" game as children, are the only sympathetic ones of the bunch, and as it turns out, that's only by degrees. Grace, toughened up by her upbringing, quickly tears off the frills of her dress that get caught on objects and goes to war. This isn't the first time that Samara Weaving has played this sort of character, and she's quickly emerged as a "scream queen" to watch, her performance here not hurting in the slightest. She looks and feels like somebody who is in her element, facing off against people whose failings as both hunters and as decent human beings will deliver them their tragicomic downfall. There is an unmistakable political/economic subtext here, the film lampooning the neuroses of rich people who proudly wear the trappings of turn-of-the-20th-century wealth and suggesting that they have it coming at the hands of our working-class heroine in her Converse sneakers, but it's just that, kept to the subtext in favor of focusing on the mayhem.

And oh, there is mayhem. This film may be a comedy first and a horror movie second, but it doesn't shy away from the gore, often using it as the setup for some brutal gags both comedic and frightening. A woman slowly gurgles on the arrow in her throat that didn't quite kill her, twice interrupting Aunt Helene's speech. Grace's left hand is subjected to some very painful things. And without spoiling anything, there are practically geysers of gore at the very end. Most of it is played just seriously enough to actually be scary, particularly when Grace is hiding from the Le Domases in the mansion's many rooms and corridors, but when it gets down to business, it's interested in kicking ass and taking names. Character deaths are often played for laughs, most notably Emilie's repeated mishaps and a scene in a car where the rest of the family is watching on FaceTime and acting like the audience of a horror movie: "look in the back seat, damn it!" And all of it takes place within and around a beautiful mansion that is filmed immaculately, looking less like the setting of a horror movie and more like they borrowed the sets from a BBC period drama when it was on break. The patent ridiculousness of the whole scenario is played up, all the better for a movie about a heightened, exaggerated parody of the "country club" super-rich who feel like they stepped out of Gosford Park or The Great Gatsby and picked up an array of weapons they don't really know how to use on the way in. Grace may be tough, but she owes her survival in no small part to the fact that, having never really had to fight for their wealth or anything in life, the Le Domases don't know what to do against somebody who doesn't meekly go down in the first few minutes. Some of the character decisions late in the film, particularly with regards to Alex and Daniel, left me scratching my head a bit, but beyond that, there really wasn't anything I seriously disliked.

The Bottom Line

It's a supremely entertaining horror-comedy with some bite and claws behind its blood and laughs, even if it's not really interested in much more than just delivering a good time. Check it out.

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