Wednesday, August 21, 2019

In Theaters: READY OR NOT (2019)

(US - 2019)

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. Written by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy. Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Andie MacDowell, Henry Czerny, Mark O'Brien, Melanie Scrofano, Kristian Bruun, Nicky Guadagni, Elyse Levesque, John Ralston, Liam McDonald, Ethan Tavares, Hanneke Talbot, Celine Tsai, Daniela Barbosa, voice of Nat Faxon. (R, 95 mins)

"Fucking rich people." 

That's the central theme of READY OR NOT, the strongest effort yet from the filmmaking collective known as "Radio Silence," consisting of directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, and producer Chad Villela, whose work will be familiar to fanboy-approved anthologies like V/H/S and SOUTHBOUND. Their debut feature film was 2014's uninspired and instantly-forgotten DEVIL'S DUE. READY OR NOT seems a little familiar at the outset--with a set-up that's reminiscent of the excellent YOU'RE NEXT, which opened exactly six years ago--but it soon goes its own way, almost like a satirically-charged old dark house horror movie about the extent to which the wealthy will go in order to protect their fortune and privilege that's part CLUE and part MOST DANGEROUS GAME. It's wildly entertaining and contains maybe the most hilariously bonkers finale of the summer, but what really makes READY OR NOT something special is a star-making performance by Australian actress Samara Weaving. Perhaps best known for the Showtime series SMILF, Weaving (Hugo is her uncle) has been making a name for herself in cult horror circles with the 2017 Netflix original THE BABYSITTER, which was better than a movie directed by McG has any business being, and she was the only good thing about the obnoxious splatter horror comedy MAYHEM.

Weaving is a force of nature in READY OR NOT. She plays Grace, an orphan who grew up in a series of foster homes and has always longed for a permanent family to call her own. She gets that when she marries Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien), a scion of the Le Domas "dominion," an obscenely wealthy family of billionaire one-percenters whose past generations made their fortune in the board game industry, allowing the current patriarch, Alex's father Tony (Henry Czerny) to be the proud owner of four professional sports teams. Self-conscious Grace is concerned that she's being perceived as a gold-digger who's only in it for the money, but Alex has long been the black sheep who willingly distanced himself from the family, and for that, his mother Becky (Andie MacDowell) is grateful to Grace for convincing him to return home. It's a beautiful wedding at the expansive Le Domas mansion but Grace's perfect wedding night hits a snag when Alex informs her of a longstanding family tradition: when someone new joins the family, they have to play a game at midnight, all part of an agreement Tony's great-grandfather made with a mysterious "Mr. Le Bail" that was soon followed by success and fortune. The game is a way to honor that deal and the new family member chooses a card. It all seems like harmlessly eccentric family fun--they played Go Fish when Charity (Elyse Levesque) married Alex's cynical, alcoholic older brother Daniel (Adam Brody), and Fitch (Kristian Bruun) led a game of Old Maid when he married Emilie (Melanie Scrofano), the youngest of the three Le Domas offspring. But Grace draws Hide and Seek, which produces a palpable wave of unease, starting with Alex, who was afraid something like this would happen. Hide and Seek is the big one, the game where the stakes are much higher, something Tony's bitter harridan of a sister Helene (Nicky Guadagni) learned the hard way 30 years earlier when her new and soon-to-be-dead husband picked the same game. Drawing Hide and Seek means that it's time for "Mr. Le Bail" to be appeased with a ritual sacrifice so the Le Domas family--a sort-of Satanic Parker Brothers who sold their souls sold in perpetuity for all time--can continue wallowing in their limitless fortune. And if they want to continue living, because if the target isn't found and sacrificed by sunrise, they're all going to die.

The concept is utterly preposterous and probably sounds moronic in synopsis form, but it's a surprisingly engaging blast as Grace learns quickly that this game is dead serious, and the reason why Alex seemed so worried and distracted all day long. He makes every effort to keep her hidden and get her out of the house when things get really bad--usually due to coke-addled Emilie (she's overshadowed by Weaving, but Scrofano turns in an inspired comic performance) repeatedly killing the servants by accident ("Does she look like she's wearing a giant white wedding dress?" Daniel asks Emilie after she blows a maid's head off). The filmmakers make terrific use of the massive house and the long corridors, plus dumbwaiters and hidden passageways in the walls that the servants use. Once Grace realizes that it's kill or be killed, it's game on, and the shock that the Le Domases experience when the bride starts fighting back is quite amusing, whether it's Czerny's enraged, dialed-up-to-11 bloviating ("DO YOU THINK...THIS IS A FUCKING GAME?" to which Daniel replies "Yeah, it's Hide and Seek, remember?") or an incredulous McDowell declaring "Holy dick!" Grace is a new horror hero brought to vivid life by Weaving, who throws in funny bits like a cute little snort when she laughs too hard, eventually becoming a portrait in volcanic fury by the end, covered in blood, muck, and assorted viscera, with a wedding dress in tattered ruins, a hole shot through her left hand, and a guttural howl of rage that rivals any Swedish melodic death metal singer. READY OR NOT works in spite of its eye-rollingly silly concept, and while it's not the best horror movie of the year so far, it's definitely the most fun.

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