Every once in a while, a movie comes along that is so good technically in so many ways but leaves you with such mixed feelings due to its content you just can’t fully get behind the movie. That is the case with Ready or Not, the second feature from Radio Silence, a collective made up of directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and exec. producer Chad Villella, working from a script by Guy Busick and (not that) Ryan Murphy. Because of that, this review should be read as a straight-down-the-middle mixed review, nothing more nor less.
Grace (Samara Weaving) and Alex (Mark O’Brien) are getting married at his wealthy family’s estate mansion, both of them worried about fitting in since Alex has been away from his family for so long. The Le Domas family has made their billions in the board game business, and it’s a family tradition that any new member must play a game with the family at midnight. In Grace’s case, it’s a game of hide and seek that turns into something far more deadly and nefarious.
Radio Silence’s first feature, 2014’s Devil’s Due, was a found footage movie that I really didn’t like at all, so in that sense, Ready or Not is a distinct improvement. In many ways, this one reminded me of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, which I also had issues with. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that both Wingard and Radio Silence were part of the V/H/Santhology, although the collective’s entry was that film’s true breakthrough in terms of what could be done for little money.
Much of the strength in Ready or Not comes from the amazing ensemble cast playing the Le Domas family that runs the gamut of white entitlement from the family’s stodgy patriarch (Henry Czerny) to his more accepting sister Becky (Andie MacDowell), from stern-faced Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagnino) to the fidgety Emilie (Melanie Scrofano) who just can’t seem to get the hang of the weapons she’s handed, to great comedic effect. Adam Brody plays Daniel, the brother of the groom, who seems less driven by the family traditions and actually helps Grace at times. It’s just such a strong cast that you wish the writing and dialogue was up to the standards they deserved.
More than anything, it’s a fine showcase for Australian actor Samara Weaving who is so incredible while putting a twist on the “final girl” trope that’s so common in horror you really are rooting for her the whole way through. But don’t get too attached to her beautiful wedding dress, because it’s going to be put through the wringer and completely splattered in gore by the film’s end. Even so, this is a fine addition to Weaving’s genre resumé following Joe Lynch’s Mayhem.
A lot of my issues with Ready or Not might be my own issues with watching violence against women in any form, even when you know that the woman in question will get bloody revenge later. When compared to something like Jennifer Kent’s recent The Nightingale, in which the violence is tempered with true artistry and craft in storytelling, it’s obvious where Ready or Not is lacking in favor of somewhat over-the-top gore.
On the other hand, Ready or Not has a very distinctive look with the production design in bringing the Le Domas family estate to life adding a lot to that look, as you can’t help but admire the backgrounds in each room in the mansion. Likewise, the score by Brian Tyler is so incredibly good… except that it’s also quite overpowering for a movie that involves so much dialogue and subtle characterizations at times.
Fortunately, Ready or Not builds to an absolutely fantastic third act denouement that definitely pays off in ways many are expecting and hoping for, just that it takes time to get there. Because of that, Ready or Not is the type of movie that works better as a midnight movie, watching it in a theater with a rowdy, semi-drunk audience rather than watching alone on some streaming device.
It’s hard to recommend Ready or Not whole-heartedly as some might love the film’s darkly comedic nature more than others. I liked it but didn’t love it, although I can totally see how this might be deemed a cult classic over time.
Ready or Not opens nationwide on Wednesday, August 21.