Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Ready or Not can pretty much be summed up by a single line of dialogue from the movie’s relentless second act: “Fucking rich people.” Spoken with pissed-off-energy through a set of bloody teeth, those words cut right into the heart of this devilishly fun summer surprise, a very violent dark comedy that often literally skewers the 1% by inviting us into a clan who would sooner kill than surrender their good fortune. There are other devious forces at work here, much of the story hinges on the strange moral codes that hold families together, but most of all this is a movie about how money is always a devils bargain. Inheriting it can be dangerous; marrying into it can be deadly.
Samara Weaving, giving what can be legitimately termed as a “star-making performance,” stars as Grace, who’s about to marry Alex (Mark O’Brien), a member of the rich and powerful Le Domas family. Just before the ceremony, he gives her the chance to ditch, an offer she no doubt later wishes she had accepted. As it happens, it’s their long-standing tradition that anyone marrying into the family must play a game at midnight, and unlucky Grace gets randomly dealt the “Hide & Seek” card. And as we know from a pre-credits flashback, the Le Domases play it hardcore, as in catch-and-kill. If Grace can elude her predators — including Alex’s alcoholic brother Daniel (Adam Brody), his parents Becky (Andie MacDowell) and Tony (Henry Czerny), and bloodthirsty Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni) — until dawn, she might manage to stay alive. The premise itself might seem absurd on its surface, but screenwriters Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy keep revealing new information that helps explain some why Grace wanted to marry Alex even when he was clearly reticent about bringing her into the family, knowing what the Le Domas clan is capable of doing. Through it all, never losing sight of how silly and strained everything feels.
Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett seemingly mesh perfectly with the wild vibe, and manage to navigate a story that unfolds like a crowd-pleasing mash-up between Clue and The Purge (the film splits that difference with the help of three scantily clad maids who serve as morbidly hilarious redshirts). Their direction is more prone to efficiency than novelty, more functional than flashy, and it sometimes leaves a number of easy laughs on the table, but Ready or Not never breaks its own rules, and it’s a testament to Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett’s command of the material that the film’s go-for-broke energy feels both shocking and inevitable in equal cathartic measure.
Through all of it, it’s Weaving who gives this blunt satire of class warfare an investable heart and honesty. She’s very knowing in that she’s in a comedy of terrors, and she delivers Grace with a shrewd comic wit that can’t be faked, but, very crucially, the actress never allows her performance to be defined by some kind of eye-rolling irony. She never lets us forget that this was supposed to be the best day of her life. Grace’s full realization of the danger she’s in and the cesspool she’s married into comes at her gradually, and Weaving subtly takes us through each step. Particularly one scene where she has to rip her wedding dress in order to stay hidden, which becomes decently heartbreaking. That white gown was beautiful and was probably the most expensive thing she’d ever worn in her life, and she believed in it. Throughout, Grace laughs at a lot of the lunacy that happens in this movie, but it’s only to stop herself from crying.
As the wage gap in this country consistently increases and capitalism takes its course, the rich should probably get used to being victimized on screen. But Ready or Not doesn’t settle for cheap shots. Adam Brody’s Daniel at one point sighs that “you’ll do pretty much anything if your family says it’s okay.” It’s a line that helps deepen the film’s class commentary into a halfhearted exploration of inherited moral codes, and the inertia that allows them to pass from one generation to the next. No one’s going to confuse this for The White Ribbon or anything, but the movie is at its best when it shows a little sympathy for the devil. If Ready or Not never quite feels like a cult classic — the attempted scares are soft, the imagery is familiar, and the ending is so batshit awesome that it actually confirms that the previous ninety minutes were holding back a little — it’s still full of dark delights from start to finish, and given just enough fresh personality to help with some of its lacking parts. It’s always great to see go-for-broke movies like these, they look especially better though when they’re released at the end of a summer movie season where almost every other wide release played things oh-so safe. And, well, that’s one thing the Le Domas family never do. Consistently engaging and wickedly funny, Ready or Not delivers a bloody disembowelment of the 1% through a story about the dangers of inherited familial values and the devilish bond of greed.