Dir: Tyler Gillett, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin. Starring: Samara Weaving, Andie MacDowell, Mark O’Brien, Adam Brody, Henry Czerny, and Nicky Guadagni. 18 cert, 95 mins
“F***ing rich people!” It’s not Ready or Not’s tagline, but it should be. Instead, it’s the exasperated cry of the film’s hero, as she’s hunted down by her husband’s wealthy clan mere hours after her own wedding. The woman, Grace, is played with primal commitment by Samara Weaving, who grunts and growls her way through a night’s worth of bloodshed and carnage. When she screams those words, she does it with such force that you can feel the centuries of rage against the ultra-wealthy, who have kept the world small and cruel, come flying out her mouth. There’s little nuance in Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s horror-comedy take on class warfare, but it’s Weaving’s touch of pure anger that makes it feel like more than just your average shlocky gorefest.
Ready or Not opens with Grace as a woman in love, whose main concern is that she won’t be accepted by the sterner members of her husband Alex’s (Mark O’Brien) family – particularly, Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni), who has the painted scowl of a classic Disney villain. Alex is a member of the Le Domas dynasty (or “dominion”, as they like to be referred to). Grace is invited to partake in their initiation tradition, which involves playing whatever game is scrawled on a card retrieved from a mysterious wooden box. Sometimes it’s chess, sometimes it’s Old Maid. Every once in a while, it’s a deadly game of hide and seek where the family rip the antique weapons off the wall and try to murder their newest member. Grace, unfortunately, is saddled with the worst option.
The film’s script, written by Guy Busick and R Christopher Murphy, relishes every small irony it can crank out of the story. Alex gives Grace a chance to opt out of the wedding, but she turns it down. She’s a foster child and a part of her yearns to finally be a permanent part of a family. Of course, it wasn’t an expression of love in the end, but a missed opportunity to save her own skin. Then there’s Emilie (Melanie Scrofano), Alex’s cocaine-addicted sister who swears to Grace that they’re about to become best friends, but then jumps at the chance to murder her in cold blood.
The family’s privilege is painted in broad strokes, with a focus on their insularity and self-interest. They don’t see their domestic workers as human beings. When they die, it’s treated like a nuisance. Yet Busick and Murphy’s writing is at its smartest when it finds different shades of villainy. Not all the Le Domas clan are straightforward monsters. Some of them resent their status, others cling to it with fear. The latter is especially true of those who have married into the family, as one of them remarks: “I’d rather be dead than lose all this.” Adam Brody and Andie MacDowell are particularly well cast in this regard, playing the weary intellectual and his commandeering mother. They’re utterly incompetent, too, which is a nice change from the slick efficiency of film’s typical bloodthirsty elites, going all the way back to Richard Connell’s famous short story The Most Dangerous Game.
As absurd and self-indulgent as Ready or Not can get, it doesn’t mess around with its social commentary. The class system is the game we never asked to play, don’t get a fair chance at, and have no hope of winning. It’s a timeless metaphor.
Ready or Not is released in UK cinemas on 27 September
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