Ready or Not movie review: One of the best horror films of 2019, Samara Weaving is this generation’s scream queen
Ready or Not
Directors - Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Cast - Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell
Funnier than most comedies and scarily thought-provoking when it needs to be, Ready or Not is a sneaky little surprise. Directed by two-thirds of the horror collective known as Radio Silence, it is the sort of movie that - given the right kind of publicity push and championed by the right critics - has the potential to become a cult classic. It certainly deserves to.
It establishes Samara Weaving not only as a scream queen for a new generation, but also, in my opinion, a star. Like the film, her performance is a delicate high-wire act of contrasting tones - often, she is required to switch between campy horror to straight-up comedy within seconds.
Watch the Ready or Not trailer here
She plays a young woman named Grace, who in the film’s opening scene gets married to the love of her life, Alex, at his family’s sprawling Gothic estate. The Le Domas family likes to think of itself as a dominion, Alex says, explaining to his new wife that they’re all a bit odd, which is perhaps why he has been estranged from them for several years. Blank-eyed servants are seen; hidden doorways are revealed; in-laws are introduced - it’s all a bit sinister.
Immediately after the wedding, Grace is informed that as part of an initiation ritual, she will be required to play ‘a game’ with her new family. Out of curiosity more than any sort of enthusiasm, she agrees. As the Le Domas family gathers around an old table, a mysterious box is brought out and placed before Grace. She is told to pull out a card, and the family will then play whichever game is written on it. “Hide-and-seek,” she reads out aloud, amused.
As she looks around for a place to hide, the Le Domas clan equips itself with antique weapons - the dad gets an ornate rifle while the idiot son-in-law is given a crossbow. And it is with these weapons that they’ll hunt down Grace, while the house is put on lockdown till dawn. Years ago, it is explained, the Le Domas family made one of those ‘pacts with the devil’, which dictates that they participate in games such as this every time a wedding takes place, and in exchange maintain their status and wealth.
The beauty of Ready or Not, I found, was that despite its rather specific setting and vaguely period aesthetic, its story and themes are just about universal enough for different audiences to filter through their own sensibilities. For instance, as a north Indian, the idea of playing sexist games in wedding environments has very clear connotations. And certainly, the reason behind the Le Domas family’s sustained adherence to this ritual is explained away as some sort of patriarchal tradition that is best not questioned.
Honestly, one of the scariest scenes in the film involves perhaps the youngest member of the family — a boy — aiming a gun at poor Grace with the full intention of killing her. Why? He obviously doesn’t know. It’s just what he has been taught; he’s just aping the adults.
To others, the film will play equally well as a critique of privilege - specifically, white privilege. There’s a reason why Grace is an outsider; she grew up in foster homes and is very much uncomfortable around such old moneyed mania. She is at odds with the lifestyle that the Le Domases are trying to preserve.
The most obvious metaphor, however, has to be the male gaze through which society perceives women. Weddings aren’t as victimless an affair for them as they are for men. It is understood that women will be required to make certain sacrifices — beginning with their names and sometimes even their personal beliefs and principles — as they try to integrate themselves into a new family.
These are all interesting ideas, and Ready or Not finds innovative ways of expressing them, but never at the expense of giving you a ripping good time. In that regard, it’s a lot like Jordan Peele’s Get Out - a wonderfully shot, socially relevant tongue-in-cheek thriller that is just as spirited as its star.
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