Ready Or Not (2019)

AUGUST 22, 2019


I'm not sure how they differentiate behind the scenes, but to the average moviegoer, a Fox Searchlight movie is traditionally less commercially minded than the stuff that comes out from the traditional Fox label. Grim subject matter (12 Years A Slave), taboo topics (teen pregnancy re: Juno), Batrachophilia (Shape of Water)... it's easy to see why they might not want these things starting off the same way as Home Alone or Night at the Museum. So when you hear that Ready or Not is a Fox Searchlight movie, you're probably thinking it's disturbing or psychologically driven (they did Black Swan, after all), right? Wrong. It's actually the most fun genre movie of the summer, possibly all year.

If you've seen the trailer you know the premise (and, alas, a few of its surprises): a woman named Grace (Samara Weaving) gets married to a man named Alex who belongs to a wealthy family he has largely distanced himself from, and is made to join them for their "new family member" ritual of a game night, where the game is chosen by a mysterious box that dispenses cards with the game name printed on them. When Grace takes the card and sees that it's Hide & Seek, she laughs at the idea of adults playing such a silly kid's game, but everyone else clearly takes the matter very seriously. She goes off to hide, and her new in-laws grab crossbows and axes - if they find her they mean her very serious harm. Since this is not a short film, she gets privy to their plans and decides to fight back, with only minimal support from her husband.

As I said, the trailer does give away some things I wished it hadn't (at least two major moments in the trailer, with plenty of context offered along with them, are from the film's last 15 minutes), but the interesting thing about the movie is that the filmmakers seem to be aware everyone will know the premise already, and it gives the first 20 minutes or so some bonus comedy for the audience. When her husband suggests they just elope ("I'm giving you an out...") she just sees it as him having jitters or whatever, but everyone in the audience is laughing because they know he's really trying to possibly save her life. Likewise, there's no big dramatic reveal of their murderous intentions - patriarch Tony (Henry Czerny) just starts handing out the weapons to his wife and children as casually as he might deal the cards if they were playing poker.

Which leads me to one of the film's odder weak spots - the fact that it's ONLY Hide & Seek that means someone will be hunted and sacrificed. A few of her fellow "married in" in-laws reveal their games ("I got Old Maid at mine - what the hell even IS that?" says her husband's brother-in-law) and someone notes that it's been ages since they had to play Hide & Seek, but they don't do a thorough job of clarifying that, apparently, those who play Old Maid just play the game and go to bed - there's no high stakes for that or checkers or whatever else the card might say. So I was watching for a while thinking that the Old Maid guy and others did indeed go through this ordeal and "win" (survive), making the family's repeated "if we fail we're all dead!" claims confusing for a bit.

But that sentiment is offset by how damn fun it is. Czerny is one of those actors who is always just a delight to watch and truly excels at playing villainous assholes (when they killed him off on Revenge, I stopped watching the show as he was the last good thing about it), so seeing him get to get more manic as the film goes on was truly a gift. See, they only have until sunrise to find/sacrifice Grace or they'll all die (per the backstory of his great grandfather, who started this tradition after making a deal with a mysterious man in exchange for their good fortune for their business dealings), so as time winds down he panics more and more, while his wife (Andie MacDowell in rare form) does her best to keep him focused.

The real MVP, however, is Adam Brody as Alex's brother Daniel. An alcoholic who is said to always be hitting on Grace, he is clearly growing disillusioned with the family traditions and isn't sure if he should continue to assist them, making him a bit of a wild card. At one point he finds Grace accidentally (he was just looking for a drink) and allows her a ten second head start before alerting the others, though he seemingly can't bring himself to become a full blown accomplice. So part of the fun is wondering when or if he will truly turn sides, as well as the realization him hitting on her was probably his own way of trying to get her to leave on her own accord and save her life, without having to actually turn on his family. Brody gets some of the film's best lines (including one near the end I obviously can't repeat, but if you see it you'll know which one - the phrase "for a week" is involved), and it cements my post-Jennifer's Body belief that the actor is truly at his best when playing in horror comedies.

That said, everyone is doing fine work; they're all playing in-law stereotypes (ditzy sister and her clueless husband, Brody's wife is an ice queen, etc) but they walk on the exact right line between horror and comedy - it's not a movie meant for scares, per se, but it delivers on the suspense even if you're never far from another laugh, and the cast keeps it from ever veering too far into goofy comedy. And Weaving dives right into the physical demands of the role, including an accidental fall into a pile of decomposing bodies and a gnarly "hand through a nail" bit - all in a wedding dress! (She does change her shoes into something she can run in though; sorry, Jurassic World fans.)

Fun: that's the keyword here. It's a goofy premise played straight as can be, with enough blood/violence to justify its R rating (the F-bombs would have sent it there anyway) but not so much that it starts feeling like a torture flick. The climax is that rare mix of jaw-dropper and crowd-pleaser, and - even though I deplore the habit in real life - it's got the best use of a "now I need a smoke" moment in who knows how long (ages, since people almost never smoke in movies anymore). Ultimately its only real flaw was that the trailer gave away so many of its secrets, but since knowing the premise before the protagonist gave it some bonus humor, it kind of evens out. Don't let the "buried at the end of August" release date fool you - this one's a winner.

What say you?


  1. I had a ton of fun with this. I somehow was oblivious to its release until, like, the day before I saw it. I went in without seeing a trailer, and it was great! Sounds like I should be glad I skipped the trailers.

  2. I just commented in the VICE SQUAD review that I'm broke as a joke at the moment, but I feel like I need to go out and support this one. Also, it just sounds fuckin' rad.


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