By Andrea Thompson
“Ready or Not” will make you shed a tear for the company once known as Fox Searchlight, as it seems unlikely that its new overlord Disney will ever let such films see the light of day, at least not with such an irreverent, unruly take on the company’s commitment to family above all else.
Hell, the people most committed to family unity are the wealthy, entitled members of the murderous clan who decide to hunt down Grace (Samara Weaving) on her wedding night after she randomly selects a game, per family tradition, that could have fatal consequences for her. Even when wondering just how intentional the Margot Robbie vibes are, Grace herself quickly earns our allegiance with not a relatability born of respect, rather than the usual motions of clumsiness and awkwardness heroines are expected to go through.
In an exposition that’s as effective as it is brisk, Grace soon proves herself to be smart, capable, and loving, while yearning for the family she grew up without in foster care. She knows her new husband Alex’s (Mark O’Brien) family is dysfunctional, but some actually seem welcoming. It’s no secret that the blood will soon flow, and there are early hints indicating some damn effective dark humor will rise alongside the body count. Luckily for Grace, some of the family members are as incompetent as they are wealthy, so she quickly realizes what’s happening after they accidentally kill a servant instead of her. Once she realizes the stakes, she trades her heels for sneakers, tears the beautiful wedding dress that is now an encumbrance, and the battle truly begins.
“Ready or Not” also forgoes Strong Female Character tropes. Grace is a force to be reckoned with, something her in-laws discover to their dismay as she bests many of them. Much of this is due to Weaving’s incredible performance, so here’s hoping her career is successful enough to put any comparisons to her fellow Aussie Robbie to rest. The screening I attended regularly erupted in cheers, not just because Grace was taking down people who were clearly evil, but because she remained recognizably human rather than transforming into an invincible action heroine. We wince at every wound, every fall, every near miss, every narrow escape, and sometimes, her failure.
Because failure abounds, and triumph is hard-earned here. So is comfort. Alex at least sneaks off right away to try help Grace escape, but as she and Alex’s conflicted, alcoholic brother Daniel (Adam Brody) point out, he never told Grace what she was getting into in the first place. There’s always a little doubt as to which side Alex will really choose when push comes to shove, especially when Grace starts picking off family members rather than the servants, who barely have any lines, let alone anything approaching the distinct personalities of their wealthy employers. Why they are so loyal and invested remains a mystery.
Not so for the 1%. They believe if they don’t kill Grace before the night is over, they’ll die themselves. Even the young children get in on the action, perpetuating the example their elders set, who do everything from hilariously watch videos about how to use crossbows to sacrificing goats, and spouting off one-liners as they dispose of those inconvenient bodies. It’s not a subtle satire, but it’s a damn fun one, even if it doesn’t make enough use of the vast potential of the family home built on gaming, which practically begs for elaborate, lovingly crafted set pieces.
But in a time where characters are more often than not viewed as incomplete without familial approval, it’s refreshing to see a film where independence isn’t a negative. During the beginning of “Ready or Not,” the family repeats the phrase “one of us,” but as Daniel points out, the fact that Grace doesn’t fit in with them is a good thing. While some of them aren’t beyond redemption, Grace manages to save herself again and again. Everyone, from the people hunting her to the passersby she desperately turns to for help, consider her expendable to other interests. In the end, Grace may not have found the family she longs for, but she’s still standing. “Ready or Not” never doubts that is enough any more than it doubts Grace’s intrinsic value.