Director Matt Bettinelli-Olpin teams up with Tyler Gillett to deliver Ready or Not, a stylish, violent thriller tinged with dark comedy. Thanks to a satisfying performance from the cast and its clever production design and set decoration, the movie is thoroughly entertaining and a pleasure to view.
Viewers follow Grace (Samara Weaving), a woman who’s marrying into the wealthy Le Domas family, whose fortune was built on a long lineage of family board games. Following family tradition, the wedding ceremony takes place on the Le Domas estate, outdoors on the expansive grounds of the massive gothic mansion that houses the clan. Like most brides, she’s nervous. But for Grace, the stakes are higher. Being that she’s an orphan who was raised in a foster home, she’s fulfilling her dream of being accepted into a bigger, permanent family.
Grace’s newly pronounced husband, Alex (Mark O’ Brien), tells her that there’s a more crucial part of the family tradition. For the Le Domas family, the initiation rite is more important than the wedding ceremony itself. After gathering everyone in the study, Alex’s father Tony (Henry Czerny) explains that the family fortune was made through a pact between his great-grandfather and a mysteriously generous benefactor named Mr. Le Bail. To honor that pact and maintain their lofty position, Grace must take part in a game that’s chosen at random by a mystical box. After she inserts a blank playing card into the box, it returns the card to her with the words “Hide and Seek” printed onto it. She soon finds out that the family doesn’t play this harmless children’s game in the traditional manner. No, the family is hell-bent on hunting her down to end her life.
The story moves along at an even pace as viewers watch Grace run and hide and stumble from one violent debacle into another. Tonally, the movie is marked by irreverent, dark humor. The actors each do a fine job of playing to the genre. Their cavalier reactions to the gruesome, violent deaths hit the mark, and they don’t overplay the comedic incompetence at murder. The fabric of the eccentric family serves as a great backdrop to Weaving’s performance. Her wild-eyed expression and sharp breaths telegraph that she’s an animal backed into a corner with vicious enemies closing in—she’s ferociously defending her life and limb. Her angry screams of defiance curdle the blood with a rough, raw edge. Weaving gives a convincing performance that’s a pleasure to watch.
The movie’s aesthetics play an important role in the experience as well. Set in a gothic mansion, viewers are treated to massive rooms styled in the rich décor of old money—ornately carved, wood trim and paneling on the walls, stone fireplaces, crystal chandeliers. The board games that reside in the glass cases of the mansion are thoughtfully designed, evoking the charm of vintage art styles. And the “Hide and Seek” song (composed by Brian Tyler) is spellbinding. Reverberating from a phonograph, its playful melody and seemingly innocent lyrics take on a disturbing quality given that it kicks off a sick, deadly game.
Ready or Not serves up an interesting premise that echoes Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Both feature a protagonist who gets roped into their betrothed’s family and their occult practices. While this movie brushes very lightly against the attitudes of the wealthy elite, it doesn’t seem to presume or aspire to do anything more than entertain. And in that regard, it flourishes.