Ready or Not

Ready or Not ★★★½

Wickedly macabre black comedy bash about the struggle to get along with new in-laws. Kind of like the horror version of last year's "Game Night" (last year's "Tag" too), or like "Get Out" if it cut right to the chase of pitting disapproving family vs. interloper in vicious combat. An unsuspecting woman marrying into a wealthy board game dynasty is invited to play a round of hide and seek with them at midnight after the wedding reception in their grand Gothic mansion, and out come the deadly weapons...

The thrill of this future cult classic comes from three primary sources:

1) the cast, exalted with enthusiastically sardonic turns by Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Adam Brody and Nicki Guadagni as the psychotic aunt (love the hair-do and the battle axe) but mainly Samara Weaving, whose utter gorgeousness somehow doesn't distract from how sharply expressive she is in every context. Sexy, intense, relatable, fearless, badass - she's the next wave of great genre heroines. Been waiting for her to graduate to big screen stardom since she made such a confident splash as "The Babysitter" in that fun 2017 McG Netflix slasher comedy. I didn't expect her to score another role as plum as that first one so quickly.

2) the setting. A royal castle of sorts, decorated like the set of "Clue", with everyone dressed up, the lighting dimmed to a glow, the architecture spooky and artful, is where more movies should take place, frankly. This is an "old dark house" picture for the 21st century.

3) the sense of humor. Mostly deadpan and ironic, occasionally satirical about class conflict. At one point one of the people stalking Samara Weaving is seen googling "pacts with the devil are they real". They're sadistic killers but also bumbling, brittle and prone to petty logistics debates. Just about every act of grisly assault is played for a laugh, which makes this more of a tongue-in-cheek survivalist thriller, even though there are earnest undercurrents of relationship drama that work pretty effectively too.

Normally I'd gush over a movie like this, reminiscent as it is of the pleasures of "Green Room" or the best "Rec" sequel (part 3 "Genesis", also about a bride who goes through an Ash-like gauntlet of torture and gore), but even with literal explosions of blood during the climax, overall it feels a bit reigned in. The cat-and-mouse games aren't as clever as you'd expect, the regrettable editing techniques during attack scenes often kill the impact of the over-the-top violence, and Weaving doesn't properly ascend to grizzled queen survivor like the movie (and all others that influenced it) sets her up to. A heavy one-by-one dispatching of her foes may have been a stereotypical path to follow, but by not doing that yet adhering to all other rules of this genre, the movie robs us of the release we're promised. Revenge is served but not the way it should be for maximum payoff, so while the final shot is beautiful looking and aptly succinct, the ending it punctuates feels hollow. And yes, the backstory about a gaming empire that goes back centuries into possible supernatural origins is pretty awesome. It's just that the movie clearly belongs to Samara Weaving's character, and it should've honored that through to the resolution of events.

Thus I'd call this the "Overlord" of 2019. A well-made hybrid of vintage horror, graphic action and grinning genre playfulness with at least one great performance by an upcoming young actor, a film that doesn't reach far enough to be truly exceptional, but is a welcome jolt from the often dire pall of mainstream horror.

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