Rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughout, and some drug use
1 hour 35 minutes
The Most Dangerous Game gets a darkly comedic twist in Ready or Not, a proudly R-rated cat-and-mouse chase with gruesome delights and a wicked sense of playfulness.
Opening with a shot of a grinning devil, the film lives up to its initial pledge by delivering some deliciously demented setpieces on top of a story about the burden of tradition and the ties that bind. With its tongue thoroughly in its cheek for all of its 95 minute runtime, it reminded me of similarly salty horror peers like The Cabin in the Woods and especially the excellent You’re Next, which it sometimes mirrors to an uncomfortable degree.
Samara Weaving stars as Grace, a young bride-to-be smitten with the good-natured and attentive Alex (Mark O’Brien). It just so happens his obscenely wealthy family made their fortune by creating games of all sorts through the generations — as Alex cheekily puts it, they’re a “gaming dominion” — so Grace only thinks it’s slightly odd that they want to play a game of hide-and-seek on their wedding night.
Little does she know, Alex’s family turns out to be a very serious set of players, which becomes obvious as they mount crossbows and shotguns in their pursuit of the hiding Grace.
There’s Daniel (Adam Brody), Alex’s hard-drinking brother who puts up a sardonic front but seems to have a soft spot for certain members of the family. That includes their sister Emilie (Melanie Scrofano), who pops just the right combination of pills to remain alert for the evening.
Their parents Tony (Henry Czerny) and Becky (Andie MacDowell) seem perfectly coiffed for the wedding but devolve into two entirely different people as the night of madness and mayhem marches on.
And then there’s Helene (Nicky Guadagni), the stone-faced matriarch whose every line of dialogue drips with sarcasm (“You continue to exist,” she greets someone at one point.)
Weaving, who made the most of a ditsy role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and also shined in Netflix’s horror comedy The Babysitter, proves to be an excellent scream queen. As a fearless and foul-mouthed “final girl” on the run from one deranged family member to another, she brings plenty of relatability and raw power to her breakout performance.
I also appreciated Czerny playing against type as the seemingly calm and composed head of the house who gradually loses his cool in tremendous fashion.
The directing duo of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett commit to creative choices that pay off more often than they don’t. The dimly-lit castle-like setting, adorned with affluent accoutrements like massive buck mantles and even larger paintings, is perfect for the sadistic chase at the film’s core. The cinematography by Brett Jutkiewicz makes use of the popular “shaky cam” technique, which works fine for tense tracking shots but makes much less sense for more foundational shots like one of Grace standing under a doorway.
If you’re in the mood for a gory and gregarious dark comedy, then Ready or Not may be perfect for your next game night.
Coming to theaters this weekend
Don’t Let Go, starring David Oyelowo and Storm Reid, follows a father who is heartbroken by his death of his family but soon gets a call from his niece, who is somehow two weeks in the past.
Opening at Cinema Center is The Nightingale, which tells the story of a young convict seeking revenge for a horrible act of violence perpetrated against her family.
Also playing at Cinema Center is Mike Wallace Is Here, a documentary about the titular American journalist who was a host of CBS’ 60 Minutes for 50 years.