Review: Ready or Not (2019)
The new horror film Ready or Not is the kind of late summer B-movie that cleanses the palette before the onslaught of awards season and prestige films in the fall. It’s directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, two members of the film collective Radio Silence, who were responsible for segments in horror anthologies V/H/S and Southbound. It’s a clever little gore-horror comedy about a young woman who marries into a blue-blooded dynasty only to discover that family tradition dictates her in-laws have to hunt and kill her on her wedding night.
Samara Weaving stars as the new bride, Grace, and most the film follows her fleeing from the family of her husband, Alex (Mark O’Brien). Like Jane Levy in Evil Dead and Don’t Breathe, Weaving spends most of the film screaming in horror, freaking out in anger at the absurdity of her situation, and grunting, growling, and fighting through the pain and blood that comes with films of this sort. As Fede Alvarez does with Levy in those films (and as horror directors have been doing for decades), Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett take full advantage of Weaving’s face and let her large eyes guide the viewer through the various reactions to what’s happening on screen. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett stick to mainly close-ups to trace her wide-eyed wonder at the opulence of the wedding, her skepticism when she learns about the family tradition, and eventually her horror and anger when she learns the truth about her new in-laws. There’s nothing particularly novel to this visual approach, but it’s a subtle way to guide viewers without being too showy.
The film is also doing plenty of other things in the midst of Grace’s one night from hell. Unlike Evil Dead and Don’t Breathe, Ready or Not is firmly in the horror-comedy tradition and not just a punishment vehicle for its lead actress. There are gallons of blood here and nasty characters trying to do awful things, but there are also slapstick pratfalls and jokes about how awful the characters are, and there’s a liberal use of cursing in an almost frat-comedy way. The jokes work more often than not, especially when they play into the film’s not-so-subtle class politics, such as when the characters accidentally dispatch “the help” while chasing Alex, only to casually dismiss the deaths and literally dump the bodies like trash.
When the film gets a bit more serious, such as during scenes involving Grace’s self-loathing brother-in-law, Daniel (Adam Brody), it begins to struggle, since the forced drama stands out too starkly from the absurd horror-comedy tone that seems more of a successor to 1985’s Clue. I much prefer the twisted humour of Alex’s coked-up sister, Emilie (Melanie Scrofano), accidentally shooting the nanny in the mouth with a crossbow to Brody’s drunken moping. However, at least his character arc plays into the film’s central thesis, which is that it’s impossible to extricate yourself from the consequences of how you get your wealth.
That being said, the larger class metaphor at work in Ready or Not doesn’t land with the same authority as the sillier, more violent moments of class horror. It merely gives the film a bit of leftist prankishness that seems borrowed from DSA Twitter, but is as muddled as the ideology of so many extremely-online folks.
But that’s alright in a film that is mostly a fast-paced, unpretentious cat and mouse game, with plenty of blood, a few jumpscares, and some quality B-movie acting at its core. If you need to get in one last bit of unpretentious entertainment before the self-seriousness of the fall movie season, Ready or Not will do nicely.
6 out of 10
Ready or Not (2019, USA)
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett; starring Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Nicky Guadagni, Melanie Scrofano, Elyse Levesque, Kristian Bruun, John Ralston.