As summer comes to a close, studios are often willing to take risks, sending projects out into the world that were deemed too much of a gamble for blockbuster season. And we’re so fortunate that Fox Searchlight took a chance on Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s latest genre exploration. With its wonderfully eerie set design, complex and original mythology, and stable of colorful characters (including a delightfully evil Andie MacDowell brilliantly channeling Jessica Lange), Ready or Not is an endlessly entertaining horror comedy vehicle, skewering the upper class in the process.
We open on a wedding, as the groom asks his blushing bride, “Are you ready for this?” “Oh, fuck no,” she replies, not realizing just how true that statement will soon ring. Grace (the wide-eyed Samara Weaving) is marrying into an illustrious board game dynasty, that is if she is able to participate in their bizarre tradition on her wedding night. In order to claim her place in the family, she must play a game, which, as it turns out, is a free-for-all round of hide-and-seek that finds her would-be in-laws hunting her for sport. If she is to survive through the night, Grace must out-sleuth the murderous clan on their home turf, and do it all while donning a wedding dress.
As promised, Ready or Not is absolutely bonkers, but it makes a point of giving us just enough explanation for whatever off-the-wall violence occurs that it remains within the logic of the universe it crafts for itself. Much like the board game aficionadoes at its core, it’s a real stickler for the rules. But that’s not to say that it ever tones down the gore. It truly goes all out. Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy (no, not that Ryan Murphy) put their money where their mouth is with their sharp script, as the film earns its R-rating and maintains a supremely dark sense of humor about the whole thing.
And, what’s more, it’s able to find that delicate tonal balance that eludes so many horror comedies. The laughs keep coming, but this movie knows how to turn up the heat when it needs to. There are some genuinely tense sequences that are not for the faint of heart, as well as moments of deep humanity. Still, Ready or Not switches back to humor before it gets bogged down in the scares and starts to take itself too seriously. The co-directors skillfully maintain a gripping momentum while juggling a wide span of conflicting tones, calling to mind many glorious moments throughout exploitation film history.
A welcome break from the monotony of a season that’s delivered little more than nostalgia-fueled rehashes and sequels, this is the kind of movie that knows precisely what it is and delivers on every gruesome promise it makes. While the satire of wealth and class on the film’s periphery could stand to be sharpened, it is a non-stop thrill ride that will remind viewers what a summer movie is supposed to feel like. Wickedly smart, morbidly funny, and Disney’s most entertaining release of 2019 by a mile, Ready or Not is genre cinema at its finest.