Let’s be honest, writing reviews for horror movies is a thankless job. This grind embodies the cliche, “Labor of Love”. Even the things that we love can wear us down. I am just coming off of the review of Martyrs and man was it heavy. I needed a break, but the devil knows that there is no rest fort he wicked. What I needed was a breath of fresh air.
Thanks to the timely recommendation from a friend, I got just that. Ready or Not (2019) would not have hit my radar otherwise. This film represents a stark departure from standard horror movies. Possibly it is more of a gory thriller? Effectively, this film sits in that wacky in-between of comedy and horror. This chasm proves exceedingly difficult to navigate, but somehow this Ready or Not performs swimmingly.
Ready or Not Versus Knives Out
One of the most highly anticipated movies of 2019, Knives Out, weaves the tale of an incredibly wealthy family and it eccentricities. It tells the story of jealous in-fighting and murder. The cast, flaunting names like Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis and Chris Evans, rivaled any other film that year. Unfortunately, despite all its headwinds, that film fell firmly on its face. Fortunately, a lesser known film called Ready or Not, directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett takes a similar aristocratic setting and brilliantly tells another tale. When considering Ready or Not versus Knives Out, the former became everything that the Knives Out longed to be. That is a clever character driven comedy/thriller with a dark twist.
Ready or Not begins with a woman named Grace, played by Samara Weaving. She marries into the famous board-game empire owned by the Le Domas dynasty. Her husband Alex, played by Mark O’Brien arranges the wedding at the Le Domas mansion, a family tradition. After the ceremony, the family introduces her to the Le Domas room, only family can enter. Here she learns that she must participate in a family tradition. She must randomly select a game from a enigmatic wooden box given to the Le Domas ancestors by a man name Le Bail. Confused but wanting to please her new family, she selects a card. Hide and Seek is the game and the game is afoot.
What Grace doesn’t immediately know is that this isn’t a harmless game. She unwittingly kick-started an ancient ceremony that requires a bridal sacrifice to appease Satan. Consequently, if the Le Domas family fails to ‘win’ the game before dawn, they will meet with deadly consequences.
Finding Charm in the Absurd
As discussed, navigating the treacherous waters of mixing comedy with horror movies requires an artful approach. The opportunities for failure outpace the opportunities for success by a huge margin. Fortunately, the directors take charge by immediately unveiling an absolutely ridiculous premise.
At this point, the laughable plot is a low-stakes gambit. The audience chooses to either be in or be out. If they choose to be in, the directors get tremendous latitude to up the ante of the absurd premise. It lays the foundation for the running joke. The Le Domas family must treat the absurd as deadly serious.
Characters Make the Movie
It would take to long to enumerate all of the great performances, but clearly the cast drives this story. Samara Weaving slays the role of innocent young bride turned grizzled warrior. She quickly navigates the arc from wide-eyed bride to Ellen Ripley without losing her innocence. Andie MacDowell perfectly plays Becky Le Domas, the dynastic mother. She loves Grace, but refuses to die for her. Nicky Guadagni brings a bit of Addams family as Helene Le Domas, the curmudgeonly aunt and apparent Hide and Seek champion. Finally, Tony Le Domas, played by Henry Czerny, holds this wacky family together as the bread winning patriarch.
The supporting cast is exquisite as well. The family has every color of character. First, Emilie is the coked out sister with an itchy trigger finger. Next, her husband Fitch plays an outsider that married into the madness. He participates in the ritual, but only because he has to. Daniel, the alcoholic son turns out to be the moral compass. Alex, Grace’s husband at first appears to be good, but ultimately shows his true colors. Finally, Charity takes the role of resident gold-digger and wife of Daniel. Every single actor brings subtle comic relief to the table, none of it gratuitous or forced. Accordingly, the wide pallet of characters successfully turns this film into a light-hearted thriller with terrible consequences.
Speaking of Gore…
The best part about the kill scenes lies in the keystone cops method in which many of the occur. Let’s just say this, it is not safe to be a maid in the Le Domas mansion on wedding night. It seems that the people least associated with madness take the brunt of the punishment in an “Oops” kind of way. As gory as these scenes get, they are laugh out loud funny.
In my favorite scene, Grace dangles helplessly by one hand over a pit of rotting corpses. Her left hand has a hole blown in it the size of a half dollar. Just when you think the hand is useless, the directors give a brief glimpse of a giant vertical spike sticking out of the ledge. The timing impeccable, the audience has just enough time to say, “Oh God, no” before she loops the hole in hand hand over the spike and pulls herself to safety.
Ready or Not, Here is the Take
Ready or Not totally surprised me. Not sure what to expect, the characters immediately grabbed and lead me effortlessly though goofy plot. Even minor details prove relevant. For example, the name Le Bail is an anagram of Belial, the personification of The Devil. This film provides enough action and enough gore to placate fan of horror movies. Conversely, Ready or Not proves light enough to sustain the interests of people that are lukewarm to horror movies. Likewise, I suspect that Ready or Not proves to be highly re-watchable, a quality that will endure it over time.
When asked which is better, Ready or Not versus Knives Out, it’s Ready or Not for me!
Ready or Not (2019) - Wacky Family Fun - Malevolent Dark
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Date Created: 2019-01-01 00:00