Ready or Not (2019)
Director: Matt Bettineli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O'Brien
Synopsis: A bride's wedding night takes a sinister turn when her eccentric new in-laws force her to take part in a terrifying game.
Genre: Comedy, Horror, Mystery
MPAA Rating: R (for violence, bloody images, language throughout, and some drug use)
Runtime: 1 hr 35 min
Release Date: August 21, 2019
In-laws can be scary.
They're the family you're required to have after marrying your beloved, and they stay with you for---well, forever. There's no way around it. Sometimes it works out really well--they like you, they enhance your life and you look forward to being with them on a regular basis. Other times, they don't much like you or the thought of you marrying their son, daughter, sister, or brother.
And sometimes, they're just plain crazy.
Ready or Not is a black comedy much in the vein of Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2012) where serious subject matter like murder is turned on its head for laughs, even though real consequences occur. Like a home invasion flick, the film is restricted to one main location, the Le Domas household, but the twist here is the invaders are already in the house--not on the outside looking in--while looking for their innocent victim Grace (Samara Weaving) in a deadly game of cat and mouse. The setting's lavish production design deserves the first round of praise, for it's a warmly lit, extravagant maze of a mansion through which our characters weave their way trying to find our protagonist. The mansion becomes a character itself, and although we are given some freedom outside of it toward the end of the film, for the most part we are largely and thankfully constrained inside it, watching Grace trying to evade her killer in-laws.
But as the film progresses, Grace goes from a defensive position against her in-laws to an offensive position, all the while donning an elegant white wedding dress that gradually turns darker, mirroring her transition. Samara Weaving, who in her 11 year career has mostly acted in TV shows and a few low budget comedy horrors like Mayhem and The Babysitter, seems to have found her niche in another comedy horror, giving a very strong performance as an initially fearful wife to a new fearless warrior fighting her way out of her in-laws' estate. Her physical badass appearance later in the film, with the shotgun shells hanging around her shoulder channels Evan Rachel Wood's Dolores in Westworld, with her character transformation mirroring classical female character icons like Sarah Connor or Ellen Ripley--who were likewise hunted. Her presence on screen is so engrossing that the only time the film seems to suffer is when she's absent from the camera. Thankfully, Matt Bettineli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett seem to realize this and keep her front and center for the vast majority of the runtime.
When it's all said and done, a horror comedy's success will largely depend on how well it executes and balances each genre, and Ready or Not kills (pun intended) on both fronts. The offbeat humor from Grace's interactions with her in-laws is stellar, as are her interactions with her husband Alex (Mark O'Brien) upon discovering the true stakes in the seemingly harmless game of hide and seek. One particular in-law, Fitch (Kristian Bruun), is the comedic highlight amongst the in-laws as an "along for the ride" man stuck with a crossbow as a weapon and thus tries to figure out how to use it. He's sadly an underutilized character, but the material we do get with him is golden. The second genre--the horror--is satisfying as well. Since comedy is a large aspect, it doesn't focus as much on suspense (although there are a few suspenseful sequences)--instead it melds the slasher and splatter sub-genres--creating Tarantino-style gory violence that fans of his will relish in.
Ready or Not is a briskly paced thrill ride populated with funny, engaging characters and a strong protagonist and performance in Samara Weaving. The film also benefits heavily from well-crafted production design work in the form of the Le Domas mansion, which creates an intriguing 19th century vibe environment while also serving as the perfect ornate maze for the family to hunt Grace. The film also features a surprisingly strong score, composed by Brian Tyler (Eagle Eye, Iron Man 3, Furious 7) that compliments Grace's growing fearlessness as she works to survive against the onslaught of her in-laws. It's one of those low budget surprises that works on multiple levels--and although it has one surprising and questionable character decision at the end, it's not enough to derail all the positives that came before. This is the type of gratifying horror comedies I would love to see more of in the future.
Written by Anthony Watkins, September 9, 2019