One of the biggest issues with modern horror films is that they come up with a clever gimmick or concept but never quite execute it properly. Films like Truth or Dare and Wish Upon have interesting ideas, but are not given anything else to back up those ideas besides cheap scares and terrible dialogue. However, when the rare mainstream horror film comes around that has a great concept and execution, I get reminded as to why the genre is thriving today. Ready or Not hits the mark on almost all it strives for, and surpasses expectations for a film that’s essentially about a prolonged game of hide and seek. There’s something refreshing about a film that knows exactly what it’s trying to be, which is why Ready or Not is such an enjoyable and balls-to-the-wall experience.
The audience follows Grace (Samara Weaving), a wife-to-be who’s typically nervous for her extravagant wedding to fiancé Alex (Mark O’Brien). Not only is this wedding expensive, but she’s marrying into one of the richest families in all of existence, which adds to the pressure. After the wedding, her plans are interrupted when the family wants her to partake in an old tradition that occurs whenever someone is inducted into the family. The tradition is simple: pick a card from a sacred box with a game’s name on it and play. She picks hide and seek, and what starts out as the ideal wedding turns into a life or death situation when the family becomes bent on killing Grace once they find her.
From the beginning, what sets Ready or Not apart from other films of this type is its comical and humorous take on horror. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett could have easily played it straight and created a gritty and dark thriller, but they instead make the fantastic choice to craft a tongue-in-cheek, self-aware midnight madness film. The tone reminded me of 2012’s The Cabin in the Woods or even 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service–both movies that are hilarious and genuinely suspenseful at the same time. The ending (no spoilers) even reminded me of an integral scene from Matthew Vaughn’s now iconic spy thriller.
Ready or Not also throws everything it can think of at its “scream queen” protagonist. The film gets gradually more bonkers as it progresses and certain decisions in the final act would have been avoided were this a less daring movie, but the tone Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are shooting for requires utter insanity which is delivered in spades here. Even though the attitude isn’t entirely serious, the film never looks down upon the audience by overexplaining plot elements or delivering predictable jump scares. It excels at building tension: scenes where Grace is hiding in a room while a member of the family walks around searching for her are taught and keep viewers on the edge of their seats. And even when humor is mixed in within the same scene, the tone never feels betrayed or confused by the change in atmosphere.
The casting directors of Ready or Not should be proud, because this cast is prepared to do anything the writers throw at them, especially Samara Weaving as the badass protagonist. She gets put through the ringer throughout the events of this movie, and Weaving is more than believable even when she is shot, stabbed, and cut open. A particular scene in a shed full of goats could have fallen flat with a lesser actress, but she nails every second of the horrifying and comedic scenarios that are given to her. Adam Brody as the alcoholic brother and Mark O’Brien as the groom are the other standouts–both give their characters’ multiple dimensions extra weight by adding deeper emotions to their respective scenes.
As much as I love that the characters are all so well fleshed out, the writers seem to do too well of a job given the decisions that are made in the last act of the film. Certain main characters make very brash decisions that feel misplaced given the development up to that point. Sure, the decisions needed to be there in order for the movie to progress, but they seem out of left field and uncharacteristic of the people that the audience had come to know over the past hour and a half. The ending itself also ruins the message that the film was trying to get across previously. While it does match the tone and it’s damn fun to watch, it contradicts the satirical message that the rest builds up.
However, small character decisions are not enough to keep viewers from leaving the theater with a wide smile on their face. Ready or Not achieves what is expected out of a feature like this and even rises above it by delivering a riotous and crazy experience. Many horror movies exist that are meant to watch mindlessly with friends, but when they are made with this much awareness and expertise, then the future of the genre looks ever so much brighter.
I give Ready or Not an A-.