Ready or Not, and this really cannot be stressed enough, is an absolute blast and a half. We’re about three-quarters of the way through a summer movie season that’s seen a new box office king take Avatar‘s crown, two live-action Disney remakes cross the billion-dollar mark, and The Rock lassoing a helicopter with his bare hands. In a post-Endgame world it’ll interesting to see what type of films get slotted in between these massive tentpoles and franchise films; in an ideal world, it’s movies exactly like Ready or Not, a lean, completely original hyper-violent horror gem from directing duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett that’s not quite a full-blown comedy, but has enough fun spilling its guts to qualify as this year’s best buddies-and-beer hangout movie. Don’t hide from this one, folks.
Like most standout thrillers of the past few years, Ready or Not starts with a simple, killer premise courtesy of writers Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy. Former foster child Grace (Samara Weaving) finally finds the family she’s been looking for when she marries Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), thus joining the vastly wealthy Le Domas board game empire. However, Grace soon discovers that, whoops, that empire is built on a literal deal with the devil, and anyone hoping to join the family has to take part in a ritualized game night. Sometimes it’s simple, checkers or Parcheesi, but Grace draws the one bad card, a game of “hide-and-seek” that sees her new family—including deeply depressed alcoholic Daniel (Adam Brody), manic pill hound Emilie (Melanie Scrofano), and the grim ax-wielding Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni)—hunt Grace with crossbow, spear, and musket through the halls of the Le Domas mansion.
Ready or Not is already a movie where you need to walk into the theater with your suspension of belief cranked to the rafters, but it actually has a few things going for it that help you buy into the madness from the jump. For one, the whole enterprise revolves around a dynamite, star-making performance from Weaving, so blindingly great here you can’t even notice the rough edges. Combined with the criminally underseen Mayhem and the deliriously fun Netflix flick The Babysitter, Ready or Not establishes Weaving as the most exciting face in blood-soaked horror-comedy. Strong, pissed off, and absolutely terrified all at once, Grace feels like Evil Dead‘s Ash Williams in a wedding dress, someone believably badass but obviously human at the same time. Ready or Not puts Weaving through the goddamn ringer—falls, cuts, a rusty nail moment to rival last summer’s A Quiet Place rusty nail moment—and the actress screams and claws her way through it all like only the legends do. This isn’t the movie to do it, but Ready or Not does make it clear Weaving might just fuck around sometime soon and create the modern-day Laurie Strode.
It’s also extremely helpful to the narrative that the Le Domas family are, overall, a bunch of vain idiots. ( Ready or Not does not work on this elevated a level if it’s populated by remorseless killers simply out for blood. Grace has to learn on the fly the rules of the ritual, but the Le Domases (frightening close to “dumbasses”, I’m realizing) aren’t too far behind. This is only the second time someone has drawn the deadly hunt from the pile, and the resulting clusterfuck sees a lot of mistaken murders, Youtube crossbow tutorials, and the family patriarch Tony Le Domas—Henry Czerny, having a red-in-the-face blast screaming this role to pieces—desperately trying to keep things together, lest they anger the business’s devilish benefactor. Ready or Not‘s messaging is too shallow to tip fully over into satire—”the 1% be crazy” isn’t untrue, but we’re not going much further than that here—but I’d be lying if I said there isn’t a certain sense of catharsis for anyone living in the real world who knows a loaded bank account doesn’t necessarily buy sanity.
The surprising stand-out from the bunch is Brody’s Daniel Le Domas, a perma-drunk black sheep who participates in the hunt with all the enthusiasm six whiskeys can muster. (His wife Charity, played by an icy-eyed Elyse Levesque, is all too eager to harpoon an innocent woman for the in-laws’ approval.) Brody’s performance is shockingly quiet and subtle in a movie that is as quiet and subtle as a coffee pot to the face. If Weaving is the beating heart that keeps this baby’s blood pumping, Brody is its soul, a sardonic voice of reason in a 90-minute madhouse.
The downside to Ready or Not is that it’s self-contained to a fault. Weaving fills Grace with life but that’s in spite of the script. Besides her foster home past, we never quite learn who she is divorced from this insane night; what she does, where she’s from, why this seemingly charming person doesn’t have a single friend attend her wedding. It elevates the isolation aspect to a point, almost giving the sense that there is no world to escape to outside the mansion, but it’s also an unnecessary roadblock to fully caring for this character outside the idea that being hunted for sport would, in fact, be bad.
It’s a flaw that doesn’t sink the movie, though, especially once you reach the blood-soaked, crowd-jolting finale. Ready or Not isn’t reinventing anything in its genre, and it certainly won’t be for everyone. But if this specific blend of madcap horror and wild dark comedy is your jam? You just found a new staple in October marathons and late-night double features for decades to come.