Horror fans, Disney Studios wants you to come out, come out wherever you are and see Ready or Not, Fox Searchlight’s new film based on a particularly dangerous game of hide-and-go-seek. As one of the first features, and notably, one of the first R-rated titles to be released by Disney after their recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox, Ready or Not centers on an unsuspecting new bride as she is literally hunted by her husband’s rich family. To anyone who’s ever had to deal with troublesome in-laws, this mischievous blend of black humor and horror just might be the movie for you.
The film comes from Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, two recently-established horror directors who are best known for working together on the collaborative anthology project V/H/S from 2012. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett have been experimenting with film since 2007 when they formed the group Chad, Matt & Rob along with Chad Villella and began by posting videos on YouTube. The group subsequently formed Radio Silence Productions, and got their feet in the door of Hollywood by crafting the Halloween-themed segment 10/31/98 that book-ended V/H/S.
Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillet first earned their sole director’s credits together as a duo on 2014’s Devil’s Due. The film was a sort-of found footage-spin on the Rosemary’s Baby scenario, and was lambasted by critics, as Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillet weren’t too concerned with attributing a source for the “found footage.” Later, the two collaborated again on another anthology effort, Southbound from 2015, in which they gained substantial critical success for a major project for the first time. This year the duo is back with Ready or Not, and they are definitely getting better.
Ready or Not introduces us to plucky, unassuming Grace (Samara Weaving) as she is getting ready to marry her boyfriend Alex (Mark O’Brien). The wedding is taking place on the estate of the luxurious mansion owned by the wealthy De Lomas family, who own a powerful empire of board games and sporting goods, to which Alex is the intended heir. On Grace’s wedding night, Alex informs her that instead of traditional bride and groom activities, they are expected to participate in a special De Lomas tradition of playing a game to welcome Grace into the family.
Grace see this as odd, but reluctantly agrees, and she is about to be introduced to the full extent of the De Lomas family’s more disturbing nature. When she is asked to draw a card to choose the game to play, the one she picks makes the room go silent: hide-and-go-seek. Grace is then told that she has until the count of 100 to run and find a hiding place. The newlywed thinks this is silly, but puts on a cheerful face and scurries off to hide in the dumbwaiter. She doesn’t know, however, that the family is arming themselves with weapons to murder her upon discovery.
From there, it’s a hectic game of cat-and-mouse as Grace frantically searches for an escape and a means of defending herself, all while processing the shock and emotional trauma of realizing she just married into a family of psychopaths, with no warning from Alex. Meanwhile, we get to learn and understand more about the history and twisted dynamics that motivate and sustain the powerful De Lomas family. Are they indebted to some sort of demonic entity, or is it just simply a shady aristocrat that their wealth is dependent on? All will be made clear by dawn.
The premise is ludicrous and borders on self-parody, so it’s appropriate that screenwriters Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy, as well as their directors, approach everything with a clear sense of devious humor. The concept reminds of 2017’s Get Out, in which a boyfriend walked into a horrific situation while meeting his girlfriend’s family for the first time, here focusing on the girl and elevating the stakes to marriage. Since the film is somewhat familiar in that regard, it does help to differentiate things a bit that Alex, Grace’s husband, is not down with the whole plan.
What is interesting to deconstruct, but undermines the seriousness of the situation, is the range of commitment levels within the dysfunctional De Lomas family. Alex’s mother Becky (Andie MacDowell), for example, likes Grace, but feels a duty to her family. Alex’s brother Daniel (Adam Brody), on the other hand, detests his family’s more nefarious secrets, but still feels obligated to go along with the charade. It’s also made clear that these people aren’t very confident with weapons. This adds to the realism, but makes the whole thing feel less hazardous for Grace.
Thankfully, however, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillet are still quite capable of ratcheting up the suspense, even in quieter scenes, such as one where Grace is stalked by the chilling butler in the kitchen. Most of the rest of the family, though, just simply doesn’t register as very intimidating, much less than Catherine Keener’s spoon-tapping mother in Get Out for instance. But where Ready or Not lacks in genuine terror, the director duo makes up for in some particularly wicked laughs, such as in an explosive climax that is as startling and hilarious as it is vile and disgusting.
What the family members don’t expect, is that Grace isn’t going to simply succumb as if a lamb to the slaughter. Tenacious, clever, and with a relentless instinct for survival, Grace functions as a magnetic central character, played by the relatively unknown Samara Weaving, niece to the more famous Hugo Weaving. Samara is just beginning her transition to Hollywood, showing up before here in Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri. Weaving’s major star-turn in Ready or Not showcases burgeoning talent, proving herself an actress to watch out for moving forward.
Where Get Out was an unsettling exploration of racism, Ready or Not takes a similar route to construct a fiendishly satisfying satire of privilege and marriage, all while boasting a rousing feminist hero in Grace. The contrast between the luxurious mansion and the De Lomas family’s sinister underbelly renders a savory aesthetic that reminds of Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite from last year, though it lacks the same delicacy in execution. Ready or Not is not without its problems, but is still a delectable enough romp in black humor to close out the summer.
Well, that’s just creepy!