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Ready or Not

A bride plays a murderous game of hide and seek with her bloodthirsty new in-laws in this entertaining horror-comedy, which serves up bumps, jumps, laughs and vicious satire.
By Sarah Ward
October 24, 2019
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Ready or Not

A bride plays a murderous game of hide and seek with her bloodthirsty new in-laws in this entertaining horror-comedy, which serves up bumps, jumps, laughs and vicious satire.
By Sarah Ward
October 24, 2019
  shares

"In-laws". It's such an ordinary, everyday term, and yet it's usually uttered with such exasperation. Embodying the flipside of deciding to spend your life with someone, it's a reminder that even the happiest of romances always come with considerable baggage. It also sums up Ready or Not perfectly. At its most basic, this twisty and gory horror flick rests on one simple idea: having in-laws is hell. Of course, there's the minor annoyance that arises when your parents-in-law have too many opinions, or your siblings-in-law are obnoxious, or your uncle-in-law gets embarrassingly drunk at Christmas — and then there's discovering that your new family is plotting to kill you on your wedding night.

First seen dressed for her big day, smoking a cigarette and pondering taking the plunge, Grace (Samara Weaving) is initially worried that her soon-to-be husband's family won't accept her. Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien) been estranged from his parents for years, but the couple is getting married on their sprawling estate anyway — it's tradition — and unease lingers in the air. While matriarch Becky (Andie MacDowell) is welcoming, she's more concerned about bringing Alex back into the fold. Grace's new brother-in-law Daniel (Adam Brody) seems like he's joking when he says she doesn't belong; however his tone has a clear edge. Other relatives, such as Alex's dad Tony (Henry Czerny), are barely polite. As for eccentric Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni), her permanent scowl says everything.

So far, so standard. That's how tales of regular folks marrying into obscenely rich dynasties often go. But, as an ex-foster kid who's never had much of a family, Grace is determined to win over the Le Domas brood. Accordingly, when she's told they all have to play a game at midnight, she goes along with it. The family made their money in board games, so it's another tradition. It's not what most couples do after they've just gotten hitched, but there are worse ways to spend an evening than playing hide and seek in a lavish mansion — unless weapons, murder and devilish secrets are involved.

Arrows start flying, guns keep firing and avoiding the dumbwaiter is plain common sense, with Grace forced to battle for her life while still wearing her wedding dress. Working with a witty script by Guy Busick (Stan Against Evil) and Ryan Murphy, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Devil's Due) ramp up the chaos and layer in plenty of commentary — and, yes, Ready or Not has much to say. As steeped as the movie is in oh-so-relatable family stresses, it also finds a wealth of subversive and perceptive material in gender roles and class warfare. When Grace's willingness to please and desire to belong sees her treated like prey, the film revels in her transformation from eager and accommodating to plucky and fearsome. And while there's no missing the many digs at the well-off, privileged and entitled, they're no less astute or accurate just because they're obvious.

The result: a horror-comedy with bumps, jumps, laughs and vicious satire all in one gleefully manic slash 'n' stalk package. The concept of hunting humans is hardly new (see: The Most Dangerous Game, Turkey Shoot, Series 7 and Bacurau), and neither are family dysfunction nor just-married jitters (see: too many pictures to mention), but it makes a smart and amusing combination. Ready or Not's setting helps immensely, with the film trading on the mystery and intrigue that bubbles in all whodunnits and horror flicks in a stately home — and making ample use of secret corridors and endless rooms as well. Also assisting nicely is the playful You're Next-style vibe and Heathers-esque attitude; if can't have some ferocious fun with this premise, when can you?

While Ready or Not holds nearly a full deck of winning cards, two other elements stand out. As the cast flings axes and slings snappy dialogue, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett always ensure that Grace's actions and choices feel realistic, rather than convenient, exaggerated or implausible; she's trying to fight, flee and survive, after all, and the situation is over-the-top enough as it is. Led by Australian talent Weaving, the film's cast is also excellent in general. MacDowell rarely dallies with her dark side, and she's a delight to watch in villainous mode. Brody, when he toys with his usual nice-guy image, is in sparkling form too. Naturally, though, Ready or Not belongs to its fierce bride and the actor behind her. After working her way from Home and Away to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to this, Weaving is a formidable and engaging presence — and, as this savagely entertaining flick demands, she's also one hell of a horror movie hero.

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