Film reviews and more since 2009

Ready or Not (2019) review

Dir. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★

Even if it misses its opportunity to be more stylistically impressive and thematically potent, Ready or Not manages to be entertaining. You should exit the theater feeling satisfied. In a time where we are deluged by blockbusters and superhero films, here’s a vulgar, blood-drenched piece of work that allows itself to have fun as it grinds out a nimble narrative about a truly insane family. I fear some might see it as a documentary of their in-laws taken straight from the dark parts of their mind.

The film stars Samara Weaving (not Margot Robbie) in what should be a breakout performance for the Australian actress. Weaving plays Grace, a woman getting ready to marry Alex (Mark O’Brien), who is part of the wealthy Le Domas family dynasty. Moments before the two emerge for the wedding, Alex gives Grace a chance to cut and run. She refuses to do so, a decision she’ll come to regret.

It’s the Le Domas’ long-standing tradition that anyone marrying into the family must take part in a game that commences at midnight, involving the new member of the family picking a random card. The card Grace chooses is “Hide & Seek,” which, unbeknownst to her in the moment, consists of her hiding and subsequently being hunted by the family toting large, antiquated weapons — everything from a single-shot rifle to a bow-and-arrow. Grace soon discovers she is being preyed upon by the likes of Alex’s alcoholic brother, Daniel (Adam Brody), his parents (Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell), and the downright evil-looking Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni in a wonderfully unstable performance). Why does the family have this ritual? I’ll leave that for you to find out.

It’s a testament to the skills of writers Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy that a premise so asinine is made effectively entertaining thanks to their consistency in revealing bits of information about the family as the film goes on. Busick and Murphy, too, make good use of an array of sets, including the decorated mansion, a stable, and nearby woods, all captured with a sense of openness, to a degree, but also unsettling confinement. One location, in particular, is gag-inducing. Never has a monstrous museum of a house felt so small, especially when Grace is getting herself perpetually more lost the more she tries to avoid being killed.

It would help, however, if Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett opted for a more stylistically attractive approach to the visuals. As it stands, Ready or Not is pleasantly clear; never too dimly lit or rendered indistinguishable by early morning darkness. The slightly disappointing part is it lacks any memorable angles, shots, or directorial touches. Everything is captured adequately, but Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillet (the same duo behind Devil’s Due and the Radio Silence directed short “10/31/98” in V/H/S) fail to leave a notable stamp on their work.

What does further propel Ready or Not to success is its macabre sense of humor, as it prevents the film from becoming too dramatic and wrapped in the specifics of the consanguineous cult. Some writers would’ve taken a more serious approach, but Busick and Murphy resort to adding elements of black comedy not only to cut through the gloom but to help take your mind off what a horribly maniacal family the Le Domas are. The fact this premise can and does make you laugh at the impulsive banter between the family as they carry out such a heinous act provides grim fun for the attentive viewer. It’s not quite on par with You’re Next, as it’s not as whip-snap in its pacing and interpersonal play, but it’s pleasantly brutal on a regular basis.

As tremendous as Weaving is, don’t let her command on Ready or Not distract you from how seriously wicked Andie MacDowell is in her supporting role. Her cunning, matriarchal attitude makes the moments where she’s at the center crackle with urgency, and Adam Brody is fittingly understated as a contrast to the rest of the Le Domas. This is a brand of movie I’d like to see survive, yes, but also do so in the current theatrical market. In my opinion, offbeat flicks like this make for a truly terrific time at the movies, even in spite of themselves.

NOTE: As of this writing, Ready or Not is available to rent on multiple platforms.

Starring: Samara Weaving, Mark O’Brien, Adam Brody, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, and Nicky Guadagni. Directed by: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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