Ready or Not (2019) — Wedding night fun and games

“I want a divorce!”

Justin’s rating: …here I come!

Justin’s review: Would you like to play a game? If you marry into the Le Domas family and their fantastic fortune, you’ll have to. You’ll draw a card to name the activity, play the game, and be accepted forever after. However, out of all of the cards tucked inside a strange black box, there’s one that you really don’t want to get: Ready or Not.

You see, if you are Grace (Samara Weaving), who just tied the knot with Alex (Mark O’Brien) and drew that card for her wedding night game, you’ll suddenly find yourself in an absolutely deadly bout of hide-and-seek. Locked in the Le Domas mansion, Grace finds her new in-laws armed to the teeth and out for her blood. If she can survive until sunrise, she’ll make it out alive — but everyone else will die (it’s some ancient curse thing). And so there’s a lot of motivation on everyone’s part (except, sort of, her new husband) to make sure Grace’s white dress gets stained scarlet.

If you argue that the whole premise of Ready or Not is inherently ridiculous, even Grace won’t fight you on it. Yet a silly idea of a horror movie made around a child’s game can actually succeed if three crucial ingredients are added:

  1. A strong cast of vividly drawn characters
  2. The tone and ambience of a gothic murder mystery film
  3. A good shot of comedy

With this mixture, what is silly is made both dire and subversive — and very, very tense. Grace doesn’t immediately understand the situation she’s in until a maid is accidentally killed in her place, and she goes through a process of shock, horror, anger, and a gritty determination to survive. But she’s also go to tangle with the fact that she’s married a guy who already hasn’t proven himself to be that trustworthy — and who stands to die if she lives.

I appreciate that the filmmakers gave a lot of personality to the Le Domas tribe. In a lesser movie, they’d all be stone-faced evil killers. Here, they’re a variety that ranges from stone-faced evil killers to alcoholics to druggie comic relief to utterly practical to wickedly vengeful. You get to see a lot of this movie through their viewpoint, and that greatly expands the fun quotient.

Also enjoyable is the Le Domas mansion, which is peppered with secret passages, grand ballrooms, and a few gory surprises. Grace is at a severe disadvantage, being outnumbered and not knowing the local terrain, but that’s the sort of thing that makes you root for her even more. At least she doesn’t curl up into a ball and give up.

The laughs that this movie gives you are sparing but always welcome to break the tension. I especially applaud the memorable use of the “hide or seek” song that’s used at the start. It’s funny and quaint while also being chilling in the proper context.

It’s not perfect, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two things that bugged me. The first is that most of the cast drops f-bombs like they’re a kid who discovered the sole swear word in the world and are determined to use it as much as possible until their mom catches them. It’s way, way overdone in parts.

Another issue is that with characterization. Now, as I said, Ready or Not has pretty memorable characters. But their choices, motivations, and actions aren’t consistent — and this is especially the case in the third act. You’ll know it when you see it. It felt like the writers backed themselves into a corner and took a very lazy way out.

That said, Ready or Not takes the age-old tale of “The Most Dangerous Game” and infuses the concept with some creeps, some chuckles, and a whole lot of charm. It’s like Knives Out, if everyone was a bit more murdery.

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