The trailer for Ready or Not promises a deeply guilty pleasure of a movie: heavy on blood, laughs, and homages to previous, similar horrors. So when I sat down ready for a fun but unambitious good time at the movies, I got that, and so much more. Ready or Not isn't a guilty pleasure; it's not a low-stakes horror-comedy. It's a lovingly-crafted genre film with flawless performances and true care taken in every morbid, hilarious detail. Just because this is a funny, bloody movie, doesn't disqualify it from being a great one.
The first and biggest joy to behold in Ready or Not's stacked arsenal is Samara Weaving, who follows up brilliant, lived-in supporting roles in Mayhem and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri with one of the best performances of the year, period. I would call this a star-making role if she weren't, on the evidence of her work, obviously one already.
Weaving plays Grace, a woman who starts the film marrying a perfectly nice boy, Alex (Mark O'Brien), a member of the Le Domas "dominion," a family exceedingly rich off the sales of board and puzzle games. Alongside Alex there's alcoholic brother Daniel (Adam Brody, doing great work), the sweet but mostly inept Emilie (Melanie Scrofano), and her husband Fitch (Kristian Bruun). None of them are totally irredeemable or likable but, hey, that's family. Alex's mother, Becky (a brilliant Andie MacDowell, who spends the majority of this movie smoking and swearing in a Southern accent) coaches Grace on marrying into an intimidatingly wealthy family with genuine warmth, but the sneering Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni) seems to be having none of it.
Anyway, those are the major players in what, as you probably have already surmised, quickly becomes a deadly game. It's a Le Domas tradition, you see, for a new member of the family to play a game at midnight, and Grace picks the "one bad card." Not every marriage turns violent at the compound, just the ones where the "hide and seek" card is drawn. Grace, none the wiser, gamely picks a hiding spot, and the rest of the family loads up on weaponry.
An aside: poor The Hunt, which was singled out as a problematic movie of our time and pulled from release for no good reason, but all the same, Ready or Not's lack of excessive gunplay is refreshing. Not only do better moments result from the antiquated family's use of, say, ancient crossbows or giant battle axes, but the threat is more primal. A bunch of people in tuxedos running around with automatic rifles doesn't have the same deranged thrill to it as MacDowell slinging a bow and arrow at her brand new daughter-in-law. The violence in this film is often played for laughs, and when it isn't, it serves a visceral purpose. No bullet is wasted, no slash is forgotten about. The stakes feel real, and when Weaving slams a nail through her palm as a means of climbing a broken ladder, boy do you feel that.
As you also might have gleaned, there's a little commentary on class here, but nothing that wants to get in the way of a good time. Grace turns the tables on the Le Domas clan, but nobody is invincible or completely incompetent. As with the real 1%, the threat is real by the very virtue that this is their playing field, their rules, their weapons of choice. When things go south, the rules are bent to accommodate. When things go right, of course they do. It's more than a little bit perversely thrilling to see Weaving knock the lights out of an entitled 12-year-old wearing silk pajamas. The film makes it clear: The rich are people, too, but their choices deserve consequences that are all too often not forthcoming.
Reader: They come forth.
For most of its breezy 95 minutes, Ready or Not unfolds about how you'd expect, with a couple of darker allusions to the reason behind this game relegated to throwaway lines. I didn't much mind the idea of the "game" remaining unexplained, but the eventual reveal is a creative and bold swing with a shrieking, gory payoff that, in most other studio's hands, might have been deemed too out-there.
It's been a slow, kind of disappointing summer at the movies, but Ready or Not is a shot of pure adrenaline into the arm of a lagging season. The script and direction are as pitch-perfect as Weaving, and, plainly, I can't wait to see this film again. Forget being one of the best horror movies of the summer. This is one of the best films of the year.