Film Review: Ready or Not is gleefully sadistic fun, with a great performance from Samara Weaving

Horror comedies are a sub-genre that are hard to pull off successfully. One has to steer tonal shifts smoothly and juggle both laughs and scares with skill and balance; all whilst not overwhelming or underwhelming on either front. Successful horror comedies include Sam Raimi‘s horror entries — The Evil Dead Trilogy and Drag Me To Hell — or cult classics like Peter Jackson‘s Braindead along with more recent work from New Zealand like Gerard Johnstone‘s Housebound or Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement‘s What We Do In the Shadows.

Enter the men behind the camera Radio Silence; the name of the collective of filmmakers — consisting of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett and others — responsible for a series of acclaimed short films in anthologies i.e. V/H/S and Southbound; as well as their first feature-length film Devil’s Due, which was said to be a rip-off of Rosemary’s Baby told through the style of found-footage.

Now, they have their second chance with Ready or Not, a horror thriller about the divide between the rich and the not-so-rich; all wrapped up as a dark family comedy. With respectable character actors assembled, a well-worn premise and scream-queen Samara Weaving leading the pack, will Ready or Not succeed in hitting all of its targets?

Weaving stars as Grace, a newlywed who is madly in love with her new husband Alex. They end up getting married at Alex’s family estate, where they are frowned upon by the rich eccentric family, consisting of the patriarch Tony (Henry Czerny), older brother Daniel and wife Emilie (Adam Brody and Elyse Levesque), matriarch Becky (Andie MacDowell), black sheep sister Charity (Melanie Scrofano) and old Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni).

After the wedding ceremony, Grace is invited to participate in a family ritual, which consists of playing a game with the family. Looking for any way to impress the family, Grace volunteers but little does she know,  as she is swept up in a lethal game of cat-and-mouse that will have her running for her life. Nothing like a classic game of hide and seek to play with the in-laws.

So, is the film as fun as the synopsis promised? Thankfully, Ready or Not succeeds both as a horror and a comedy and delivers a sadistically fun time. The premise of cat-and-mouse has been done to death (no pun intended) in films dating back to The Most Dangerous Game. But filmmakers Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett and screenwriters Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy freshen it up with incisive commentary on social status (one character specifically states that she would rather kill to remain rich than to live poor) and the notion that it is all a game.

The film is also littered with numerous references to board games (not unlike the surprise 2018 comedy Game Night), almost every death scene is a reference to Clue for example. A trivial note to mention is that the mansion the film is shot in is the very same one used in the Adam Sandler comedy, Billy Madison.

The gory nature and timing of the thrills and kills hit their mark convincingly. Clearly none of these people are skilled with their antique weapons and household appliances. And the balance of both suspense and comedy is executed quite well; a scene set in the kitchen involving Grace in hiding while the butler sings is a definite highlight.

The symbolism and tropes of horror/exploitation are skewered to amusing effect i.e the use of the “goat pit” being a representation of Hell and its pets; the visual of the “blood-splattered bride” and the teasing build-up of the empowerment of the “final girl”. The film also twists the notion of family by making the audience sympathize with the wrong stereotypes i.e the family members are the villains and yet their actions are purely motivated by survival and filial allegiance, even with their twisted yet relatable motives.

The cast add fun to the proceedings, thanks to their sadistic glee and their restraint in looking down to such genre material. Andie MacDowell is wonderfully acerbic as the mother of the Le Domas family, whilst Henry Czerny is entertainingly over-the-top as the father.

Adam Brody lends great depth to his amusingly droll character of the older brother, Elyse Levesque is nasty and laser-focused as the accepted in-law. Nicky Guadagni is compellingly kooky and a pro at pulling off a thousand-yard stare as the Aunt, and Kristian Bruun is amusingly skeptical as the outsider in-law. Mark O’Brien is both dedicated and oddly intense as the good son while Melanie Scrofano is hilariously petulant as the drug-addled black sheep of a sister.

The real standout however is Samara Weaving, who gives a believably frazzled, likably down-to-earth and convincingly headstrong performance as Grace. It is evidently clear that this is not her first ride in horror comedies, as her strong work in films/TV shows like The Babysitter, Mayhem and Ash vs. Evil Dead indicate. Her confidence in her performance, much like Brody’s work, lends true heart to the part that the script does not provide, making her character’s arc of empowerment come smoothly without being contrived or obviously scripted.

As for its flaws, it does take its time in getting to the fun stuff due to the slabs of exposition that the filmmakers need to get out of the way, no matter how much humour the filmmakers try to sprinkle in it. The plot twists that occur in the third act are not the most surprising, especially for committed horror film fans. But for what it is, Ready or Not is a joyously fun time that ensures that Radio Silence are filmmakers to be reckoned with and cements Weaving as a bona fide star. Recommended.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Ready Or Not is currently playing in cinemas.

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