Marriage is weird. Not that it is breaking news, and I’m not even referring to the scary idea of committing yourself and your finances to one other human being. No, I’m talking about the familial side of it; because I’d argue that it’s not necessarily the bride or groom that we fear the most in the face of marriage, rather than the initiation to a new family. Whether your partner’s family is cold to you, or tries to make you feel at home but is overzealous in doing so – there’s nothing like trying to fit in but never truly feeling like you fit in.
But that’s all small potatoes to what Grace (Samara Weaving) experiences in Ready or Not. It’s her wedding day, and she’s marrying unremarkable male protagonist #1 Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien). Grace and Alex hardly seem in love, more like in lust – which is probably a more accurate Hollywood portrayal of attraction. They’ve only been dating for a year and a half, evidenced by her lack of an intimate relationship with his family. The closest that we see to her actually having familiarity with the extended family is that Alex’s married brother, Daniel (Adam Brody), hits on her. The rest are alleged to suspect that Grace is only marrying Alex because the family is wealthy.
But Grace takes in all of this pressure and anxiety with a smirk and a refuge of sarcasm. She knows she’s marrying into a weird family and has no qualms about committing to the cast of Downton Abbey. But once the nuptials are completed, we’re soon introduced to the reception from hell. Forced to play an a game baked into family tradition… well, a game-within-a-game in which Grace has to draw a card to determine what game they will actually end up playing. Yeah, it’s convoluted as hell, but Grace draws “Hide and Seek.” Taking all this silly BS in stride, Grace is somewhat bemused by the Le Domas’ eccentric rituals.
Unbeknownst to her, she’s signed up for a recreation of The Most Dangerous Game, one with higher stakes as there’s a family pact that dictates, in the event of Hide and Seek, a sacrifice must be made before dawn or the family members themselves will perish. This is usually more than I’d like to reveal for a film, but the trailer has already shown all you’d ever want to know about the film before actually seeing it. In fact, it’s rare that a film of this nature is so upfront about it’s plot, tone, and reveals before release. Perhaps that is a consequence of one of the film’s flaws – that even in it’s subversive shuffling of genre cards, it still feels reminiscent of past entries.
The films in which it bares most resemblance to are You’re Next (2011) and House of the Devil (2009), both being superior films, but Ready or Not doubles down on the absurdity of the cliches into full blown parody. This is best evidenced by the fact that the Le Domas family is so undertrained with their ridiculous crossbows. This not only gives Grace ample plausibility for why she is able to survive for so long, but invites the audience to partake in the laughter at these ridiculous adherences to tradition and class when much more practical weapons could be sought. At one point, a character literally has to look up a YouTube tutorial on his weapon because he has no idea what the hell he’s doing.
The film was directed by the duo of Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, and they are assuredly confident in the tone the film is going for. But perhaps too confident; one key item in the toolbox of comedy is that of surprise, but it is rarely used through much of the runtime. Since the filmmakers are so deliberate in setting up the world and stakes early, there really isn’t anything that surprises us about the Le Domas family or their crazy rituals. They’re supposed to be revealed as an eccentric, borderline-incompetent group of rumor mongers and blind faith followers. But that’s also how they’re introduced to us, leaving little room for character growth or surprises. Even the characters themselves come off more as composites, including the family matriarch (played by Nicky Guadagni) who seems early on to be the potential scene stealer. Unfortunately, I can’t recall a single line of dialogue from her as her performance boils down to either yelling or reciting her lines in a gruff tone and nothing else.
What the film does have going for it is strong catalogue of gags (albeit repetitive) and a cast of charismatic if underwritten characters. The film is uniquely shot, with the filmmakers enacting the camera as a magnet to the characters. At times the camera jolts with the characters when their bound by physics, such as when Grace’s dress is caught in a dumbwaiter, creating a sprightly mood I wish the film would have played with more. But it is Weaving who holds everything together brilliantly, showcasing infectious charm early, and believable despair later (including a grim scene in a barn). The film is worth seeing just to see Weaving’s star continue to rise. However, her performance doesn’t distract from a shallow script and a haphazardly edited 3rd act. Thankfully, the ending delivers on some of the promises of the film’s intriguing premise, but the blemishes still can’t be ignored. Ready or Not is like a joke where you already know the punchline, but you still smirk and chuckle upon hearing it. It isn’t as clever as it thinks it is, some of the timing was off, but it still puts a smile on your face.