Ready or Not has a great premise, a great lead performance, and a great tone- I wish, however, that it had made for a better movie. There’s certainly a lot to appreciate about the film, but this ultimately feels like a first draft; there are ideas that are interesting, but need more fleshing out, some basic character motivations that are often confusing, and moments in which better direction could have changed the scope of the moment. I don’t mean to get too negative so early on, but this had the makings of a future cult classic, and while it is nonetheless an entertaining theatrical experience to see with a crowd, there are so many other things that could’ve been taken advantage of with this premise.
Grace (Samara Weaving) spent the majority of her childhood being transitioned between foster homes, but it appears as if her dreams are about to come true, as she’s engaged to Alex (Mark O’Brien), a man very much in love with her who also happens to belong to a very rich family. On their wedding night, Alex brings Grace to his family’s mansion to engage in their family’s tradition- playing a game, as selected by random. When Grace selects “hide and seek,” she doesn’t realize this means Alex’s entire family will use archaic weaponry to hunt and attempt to kill her, forcing her to use her wits to survive the night.
I’ll start off by saying that Samara Weaving is excellent in the film; while I couldn’t tell you much about Grace as a character and her life before meeting Alex is rarely ever explained, Weaving makes all of Grace’s decisions feel authentic, and channels the frustration and confusion that someone would have going through this. The themes that the film really handles well is that of being adjusted to a new family and having to abide by rules that exist only for tradition’s sake, and both of those come across in Weaving’s performance.
While the rest of the cast isn’t bad, they feel underserved by the script; none of the family members really elevate themselves beyond one defining characteristic, which seems like a disappointment considering how this story seems suited for a wide variety of character actors to have a blast with the dark comedy. I appreciate the idea that none of these people are professional killers and are incompetent, yet enthusiastic about killing their new family member, and the best of the film’s comedy comes from the bickering between them, even if the characters are mostly interchangeable.
The one exception to this is Adam Brody’s performance as Daniel, Alex’s alcoholic brother who is tasked with trying to bring him back into the family. Brody has the most interesting character arc, and is able to an imply a history that isn’t ever explicitly stated. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for Alex; Mark O’Brien is generally pretty good, but considering the film relies heavily on his relationship with Grace, we never really understand why they’re in love or what their dynamic is like. We’re constantly told that they’re in love, but we don’t ever see it.
This is one of the main issues with the film- every single dialogue scene seems to state something directly to us that could’ve been shown visually, and a majority of the exposition is told by rambling monologues that exist to inform us. It would be one thing if the dialogue was really sharp and clever, or if the satire of the super rich was particularly biting, but it isn’t- there’s a lot of references to how crazy rich people are, but that’s about as deep as it gets.
This, however, is a movie that you go to for the shock value, and I’ll say the film’s gore is mostly satisfying and effective. I usually think I have a pretty good stomach for violence, but there’s a scene involving a shed that unnerved me in a way I haven’t felt during a horror film in awhile. I wish the film had taken advantage of the mansion more, considering how great the design of it is, and I wish some of the family history could’ve been communicated to us through Grace’s exploration of the mansion. There aren’t a lot of kills that stand out as particularly creative (and some annoying shaky cam), but as Grace gets increasingly slack to the insanity of the situation, the film is able to embrace the warped, sick comedy in all of this.
Despite what I’ve listed, there’s certainly a lot to enjoy in Ready or Not, and the sick and shocking nature of its ending was actually strong enough to make me forgive some of its earlier flaws. This is definitely a film with a lot of ideas, but when watching the film play out as a narrative, it feels like just that- a series of cool ideas. There’s a world where Ready or Not is a sharp, wry takedown of privilege as seen through the perspective of an outsider, but this isn’t it; we’ll have to subtle for a sometimes fun, but mostly entertaining, if never very challenging thriller. Grade: C+