There’s a certain expectation that comes with Fox Searchlight’s first foray into outright horror. The studio, traditionally seen as Fox’s prestige arm, has been home to four Best Picture winners, so venturing into such territory conjures images of something along the lines of an Ari Aster or Jordan Peele film. Enter Ready Or Not with that mindset and you’ll find yourself drastically recalibrating your expectations about five minutes in.
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s film comes into the world with its tongue firmly embedded in its cheek, embracing gleeful bloodletting in a manner that recalls Adam Wingard’s You’re Next or The Purge: Anarchy – not least in its class war subtext. Samara Weaving (niece of Hugo) stars as Grace, who we first meet just as she’s embarking on the happiest day of her life: her marriage to Alex Le Dumas (Mark O’Brien), estranged heir to a board game dynasty – which is apparently a thing. Grace’s love for Alex supersedes his family’s eccentric awfulness and downright disapproval of her social standing, setting them up as a couple worth rooting for.
Grace’s misgivings about her new in-laws turn out to be vastly underestimated. The ceremony is barely finished when she’s confronted with their bizarre ritual for new members of the family: pick a card at random, play a game, be accepted. Parcheesi, backgammon, Monopoly, there are plenty of relatively innocent options, but just one card you definitely want to avoid: hide and seek. In some alternate reality, there’s a film where Samara Weaving, Adam Brody and Andie MacDowell play Monopoly for 90 minutes but, in this one, Grace is soon tearing through the hallways of the opulent mansion in a ripped wedding dress and vintage bandolier, pursued by her murderous, heavily armed in-laws.
Ready Or Not has two strong aces in its hand. One is Samara Weaving (see her also in Netflix’s Babysitter), the greatest contemporary final girl since It Follows’ Maika Monroe. Weaving imbues Grace with immense likeability, believable grit, and a scream that would give Jamie Lee Curtis goose bumps. For all the film’s resounding silliness, it would fall apart without some kind of relatable emotional focal point and Weaving’s Grace is exactly that. It would be a shame if she’s pigeonholed as a scream queen as it’s plainly obvious that she’s got the chops to take on more dramatically taxing roles.
The film’s other resounding strength is its total acceptance of its own inherent absurdity. It starts off testing the limits of credulity and doubles down with each ensuing twist, especially with the introduction of what must now be referred to as ‘Chekhov’s crossbow’. The cast is equally committed to the cause and are clearly having a ball leaning into the family’s entertaining awfulness. As Alex’s parents, Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell are particularly wonderful, embracing their characters’ entitled petulance and sub-zero frostiness.
Despite its tongue-in-cheek approach, it’s hard to refer to Ready Or Not as a horror comedy. As a horror, it isn’t all that scary; as a comedy, it’s not quite funny enough. But somehow, it transcends what would ordinarily be a fatal double-whammy to become something difficult to define but easy to surmise: a hell of a lot of fun.