‘Ready or Not’ gains momentum in guffaws, gore
There’s a reason hide-and-seek is such an enduring game to play. Early in life, children understand the thrill of trying to outwit their “predator,” searching for remote locations to avoid being discovered, the adrenaline-fueled anticipation before being found, and the joyously nervous jolt if they are actually “sought.”
It is exactly this kind of simple, primal pleasures on which “Ready or Not” is built. First-time feature film directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett also served as screenwriters, and they layered the film with biting social commentary and perfectly timed pageants of plasma.
On the day of her wedding, a nervous Grace (played by Samara Weaving) has the typical jitters, which are only compounded by the fact that she is about to marry into an insanely wealthy family that made its fortune through countless popular board games. Coming from humble origins, Grace grows more intimidated as she is introduced to each new member of her soon-to-be in-laws’ family.
There is little time for her dread to subside after the nuptials, as her husband Alex (played by Mark O'Brien) informs her that they family traditions dictate they must all play a game at the stroke of midnight to induct every new member into their clan.
Drawing a card from an antique contraption, Grace is momentarily excited when it says they all must play a round of hide-and-seek in the cavernous estate, and she runs off to find a suitable corner in which to elude them. When the family begins to arm themselves with various weapons in order to “seek” her, we soon realize there is not much innocent about this particular escapade.
This is a rather twisted setup, but Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett pack it with pitch-black humor throughout and provide the dysfunctional dynasty with a number of amusing progeny. There’s the fatuous father (played by Henry Czerny), the sweetly sinister mom (played by Andie McDowell), the alcoholic brother (played by Adam Brody) and his soulless wife (played by Elyse Levasque), the good-for-nothing, drug-addled sister (played by Melanie Scrafano) and her equally useless husband (played by Kristian Bruun), and the dagger-eyed ancient aunt (played by Nicky Guadagni).
Each character is given moments to steal a line or two, but this is by far Weaving’s film. As our hero, she’s capable of appearing both vulnerable and indestructible in what is no doubt a star-making turn. Watching her wander through this most dangerous game with fear and ferocity is the driving force of “Ready or Not.”
As the film ramps up to its conclusion, it gains momentum in both guffaws and gore, never losing its balance of both. It’s crafted with wit, style and attention to detail, with a hearty jab at the 1 percent tossed in for good measure, making it one of this summer’s strongest (and unexpected) devilish delights, cementing Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillet as assured talents and Weaving as a certified star who, fitting for the theme, is mastering her game.