The end of summer usually means studios are dumping their most boring movies of the year into a four-day weekend in hopes of squeezing a couple more millions of dollars out of unsuspecting filmgoers with an extra day off. But in the last couple of years, since the terrific surprise hit “Don’t Breathe” in 2016, they’ve also been the time to release unexpectedly strong horror comedies.
The new movie “Ready Or Not” is one of them, following a young woman named Grace (Samara Weaving), who is about to marry into the extremely wealthy Le Domas family. The clan has made a vast fortune creating an empire based on various amusements, including card and board games.
Grace is marrying Alex (Mark O’Brien), whom family members discuss elliptically as having “abandoned” them, and they thank her for bringing him back in the fold.
Yet, even as Grace is admiring the impressive trappings of their huge estate, she feels that there’s something awry in how the new in-laws are treating her before vows are exchanged. Alex even tells her she’s free to give up on him and go, as he is afraid to directly tell her she’s in danger, yet is clearly hiding something from her.
Once the ceremony has taken place, and Alex and Grace are playfully about to consummate their marriage, she comically freaks out when she sees his elderly aunt watching them from a hidden room. Alex makes things worse by revealing that the family requires her to play a game with them at midnight, a prospect she finds more annoying than sinister.
But when Grace enters a huge hidden room filled with all manner of old-fashioned weapons, including swords and giant old shotguns, she hears more about the family’s odd history and is asked to pick a card out of a box. The card indicates that the family is going to play “Ready or Not” with her — a game which they explain as a “hide and seek” with creepy overnight play times.
In reality, they have to capture Grace — or any newcomer to the family — by dawn or risk their own destruction. The goal is to maim her and then subject her to an occult ritual, but things get out of hand quickly, and soon Grace and the entire family — plus the estate’s staff of maids and butlers — are out to kill each other.
“Ready Or Not” walks a fine line between extreme bloodshed and dark humor that few movies manage to pull off, and it succeeds most of the time on that level. But about 20 minutes before its conclusion, the movie becomes redundant, with viewers likely to wonder how many times the same person can get away from dangerous situations.
The movie has several impressive things going for it, including a terrific orchestral score by Brian Tyler, which transcends the genre until the last few minutes also seem to suck the energy and verve from it. The look of the film is stunning as well, with the home a masterpiece of set decoration and art direction that is endlessly inventive, making the house almost a character in itself, with humans weaving in and out of endless rooms and tunnels.
The fact that the cast is largely unknowns, aside from a wickedly funny turn by veteran actress Andie MacDowell, also plays to its advantage. This makes the unpredictable writing shine further, as viewers won’t have preconceptions on how each “star” will behave in the various life and death scenarios.
Samara Weaving is particularly strong in the linchpin performance of the film, with MacDowell and Adam Brody as the possibly nice guy in the family who seems like he might be willing to help save her.
Unfortunately, the movie is so graphic in its bloodiness and lets the mean-spirited wisecracks of the evil family and their casual disposal of the victims in their games take such strong precedence that “Ready or Not” ultimately has an ugly undertone that detracts from its enjoyment — especially as it plods near the end.
For horror fans and aficionados of cleverly written dark comedies, “Ready or Not” is “ready” to deliver some real charms. But for anyone else, especially the squeamish, the answer is “not,” and this movie should be avoided.
“Ready Or Not”: B