There’s a type of movie I really like that has its subtext emblazoned across it in bright red paint. It’s not a subtle, multi-layered thing, but it’s not a self-serious, hit-you-over-the-head movie, either. It has a simple message, and it delivers it plainly and broadly in an entertaining, populist package.
“Ready or Not” is that kind of movie, but instead of red paint, the subtext is scrawled in blood.
Directed by horror partners Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and written by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy, “Ready or Not” begins with the wedding of former foster kid Grace (Samara Weaving, who gives a strong performance while looking uncannily like Margot Robbie) to the wealthy Alex (Mark O’Brien), the presumptive heir of an absurdly rich family of board game magnates. Is this is a silly industry to have garnered a family so much wealth? Yes, of course, but the movie knows it. It’s part of the fun.
In fact, it turns out, in the film’s first skewering of the 1 percent and unchecked corporate greed, the Le Domas family’s fortunes appear to really be thanks to a deal with the devil. No, not slavery or sweatshops or pollution or any of the figurative deals with the devil that have driven so much real corporate profit over the years; Grace eventually learns that the Le Domases believe their infernal pact is quite literal. To satisfy their unholy bargain, the family must subject each member who joins it by marriage to, essentially, a roulette wheel that determines whether or not they’ll be sacrificed. If the ancient sorting device the Le Domases use declares that the family member play a game of Hide and Seek – and of course, that is the fate that befalls poor Grace – that means the would-be relative will be hunted throughout the night on the grounds of the family mansion until he or she is found and killed. The Le Domases believe some terrible fate will befall them if a victim survives until dawn, but since none of the victims ever have, no one’s quite sure what will happen. Aided by Alex, Grace would really like to find out.
“Ready or Not” is a horror-comedy that’s light on the former and heavy on the latter, particularly relying on its favored form of amusedly contrasting the banal concerns of its characters with the blood-soaked reality they inhabit (Le Domas patriarch Tony, portrayed by a delightfully arch Henry Czerny, once complains that the stressful events of the night will make him tired for his morning tee time). It also leverages a good chunk of its gore into dark laughs, serving its kills up as a demented form of slapstick delivered by a cadre of incompetent, venal fools.
Those fools are where the entertainment of “Ready or Not,” its propulsive and spry 90 minutes of violence and cursing, intersects with the message. Rather than transforming Grace from hapless victim to avenging angel, the film is content to have its villains mete out most of their retribution on each other – repeatedly, accidentally, idiotically. The Le Domases come from old money, and most of those left are there out of sheer nepotism, failing upwards or marrying rich and being glad they weren’t the ones to draw the fateful card. They believe they live in rarified air, but in reality, they don’t know how to do anything useful, not even committing the crime they believe will keep them all alive.
The film plays its power chords decrying the idea of American meritocracy loud and proud, but its best moments of satire are reserved for the way corporate culture will resort to any amount of collateral damage to justify its profit. No one (save for the zealous Aunt Helene, played with an almost feral joy by Nicky Guadagni) really likes doing the sacrifices, you see. They all actually like Grace as a person, they wish they didn’t have to do it, but, you know, the family’s got to come first. Don’t hate the player, they urge Grace and Alex, as if this absolves them of their reprehensible crimes – hate the (literal) game. “Ready or Not” even reserves some of its bile for the working class people who go along with inhuman corporate policies, most notably the Le Domas’ servants, who enable the game to continue before being gobbled up in the collateral damage of the bourgeoisie.
However, I don’t want my admiration for the film’s fist-pumping thematic insistence to overshadow or overstate its charms. “Ready or Not” is, ultimately, a simple, silly, gross, quite entertaining revenge film, with a bit of working class rage thrown in for seasoning (never mind that many of the creatives on this film are richer than many of us ever will be). The score is alternatively bouncy and ominous, the lighting is creepy and gothic, and the performances universally trope-heavy and pleasingly melodramatic (except for Weaving, who brings a real and relatable person to her role). I laughed a lot. If you like dark comedies with a heavy dose of viscera, you’ll probably like it.
Maybe the biggest laughs in my theater came at the end of “Ready or Not,” when a fear expressed by multiple characters throughout the film manifests in a gory, patently ridiculous way. This manifestation comes right after Grace, having appeared to gain some measure of relief from her trial, is faced with the same dangers she was facing before, now just for different reasons. When it comes to corporate wealth vs. the little guy, the movie seems to say, the house always wins. Satisfyingly, “Ready or Not” chooses this moment not to hew to real life.