During a moment of anger, the main character in Ready or Not screams, “fucking rich people!” It’s a line that, as delivered by Samara Weaving, is almost guaranteed to score a laugh from the audience. And it’s one of a few key moments that make Ready or Not the sort of late-summer crowd-pleaser that this tepid, depressing summer movie season desperately needed. While by no means perfect, this dark comedy/horror hybrid makes two smart decisions: it taps into the national zeitgeist, and values the audience experience above all else.
But long before she curses the upper class, Weaving’s Grace is about to become one. As the film opens, she’s set to marry Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), the prodigal son from an incredibly wealthy family of gaming magnates. Having expanded from traditional board games to major sports leagues, the Le Domas clan live in a gorgeous mansion and are very cautious about letting other people into their lives. In fact, they make it no secret that Grace is unwelcome. The Le Domas patriarch, Tony (Henry Czerny) condescends to her, brother-in-law Daniel (Adam Brody) barely acknowledges her, and even the women who also married into the family (Andie MacDowell, Elyse Levesque) act suspiciously around her.
Eventually, the marriage ceremony leads to a family tradition: on the night of wedding, the bride is randomly given a game to play with the family. Grace’s game is Hide and Seek, but she quickly realizes that the game is actually a trap: the family must try to kill her as part of a ritual sacrifice, or risk losing their fortune forever. And while Grace may have an ally in her new husband, the rest of the family is desperate for blood.
From there, the film becomes a nonstop chase movie, with Grace moving from one suspenseful set piece to another with only a few quick stops for world-building. Some of these sequences work better than others. Directing pair Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet don’t quite have the chops to pull off some of the more action-centric bits, with some visuals being too poorly lit or confusingly shot to fully follow. But the story is incredibly well-paced and the film remains engaging throughout. And, eventually, the duo find their groove and deliver some effective moments. One particularly effective sequence employs gross-out violence in a way that feels totally earned and strangely exciting. And all the action is tailor-made for enthusiastic responses from the audience. See this movie with a crowd.
But much like HBO’s masterful Succession, Ready or Not understands how to create a compelling story out of characters who the audience is predisposed to disliking. While the film lightly explores the idea of classicism, and how even the most well-meaning of rich people could stab a loved one in the back if their fortune were at risk, this is by no means a study of America’s wealth divide. Instead, it’s a punk rock slasher flick that allows the audience to laugh about their frustrations and live vicariously through the main character as the story takes more and more ridiculous turns. The film’s final moments–which should absolutely, under no circumstances, be spoiled–are so satisfying, despite sounding ridiculous out of context. It’s not trying to explore the topic at hand; it trusts its audience to have already done that, and instead just lets itself become a part of the cultural conversation.
Of course, Ready or Not can thank its cast for much of its success, too. A strong ensemble is key; otherwise, the jokes would fall flat and the film’s whole tone would be off. But every performance here is absolutely stellar and totally in-line with what the film is going for. Weaving knows this is her star moment and will absolutely win audiences over by the time the credits roll. Czerny, meanwhile, completely commits to this very campy role and has more fun on screen than he’s allowed himself in years. Many of the supporting players, namely Melanie Scrofano, who scores plenty of laughs as the woefully incompetent cokehead in the family who can’t seem to figure out how to use any of her weapons, often to deadly results. But the MVP here is Andie MacDowell, who leans so into the camp material that you’ll forget her stint as a romcom star. The way she lights a cigarette should warrant Oscar consideration to say the least.
While Ready or Not never quite clarifies what time period it’s set in, the movie feels like a decidedly modern horror experience, in the way that all great horror does. It feels good to watch a persecuted woman face off against a horrifyingly rich family who cares more about their own gain than the fate of others. But it goes beyond just social commentary. 2019 has been a year where the death of the theatrical experience has been floated around as not just a possibility but an inevitability.
While box office receipts haven’t been counted at the time of filing this review, Ready or Not feels like an argument in favor of mid-budget studio features; it doesn’t necessarily require a large audience to work, but it certainly helps. And it feels perfectly structured to entertain the largest crowd possible, but it doesn’t feel safe and overly calculated like so many other films have this summer. Because a line like, “fucking rich people,” deserves to be heard with the largest crowd, on the hottest summer day, in between bites of overpriced popcorn. Please see this on the big screen.