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Ready or Not

Once upon a time, there was a little movie called The Hunt. Directed by Craig Zobel, with a script from Nick Cuse and (*ugh*) Damon Lindelof, it was to be a modernized adaptation of the notorious short story, “The Most Dangerous Game”. The film would’ve been released a month from now, except that the release has been delayed indefinitely.

Why was the film cancelled? Well, the official reason is that after the recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton, such a violent movie seemed in poor taste. Not that any of the other uber-violent movies out right now (or coming out in the next few months) chickened out with the same bullshit excuse. Of course, I’m sure it didn’t help that (per The Hollywood Reporter), initial test screenings were less than stellar, and there was no shortage of social media controversy surrounding the deliberately inflammatory picture. It seems that audiences were squeamish about the politics of a film in which poor people are hunted for sport by the rich.

Yet here we are with Ready or Not, another blood-soaked satire in which upper-crust psychopaths hunt down a commoner for sport. Though this one at least has a few gimmicks to sugar the pill.

For starters, Fox Searchlight was smart enough to market this as a horror film, pushing the sociopolitical aspects to the background. Trust me, gentle readers, if the studio had been honest (and thank God they weren’t, for a change), they would’ve had it exactly backwards. Though there are many elements of supernatural horror in here, and they greatly enhance the overall product, this is very much a satirical black comedy allegory above all else. Let’s take it from the top.

Our protagonist is Grace (Samara Weaving), a commoner with the good luck of marrying into the Le Domas family fortune. The bad news is, her new husband (Alex Le Domas, played by Mark O’Brien) is the lone prodigal son with the conscience and the backbone to leave his godawful relatives. Naturally, we get to meet them all as the first act unfolds.

Our arrogant patriarch is Tony Le Domas (Henry Czerny), alongside his primeval sister (Aunt Helene, played by Nicky Guadagni) and our manipulative matriarch (Becky, played by Andie MacDowell). Then we have Alex’s brother, the lecherous drunk Daniel (Adam Brody), accompanied by his psychopathic wife (Emilie, played by Melanie Scrofano). Last but not least are Alex’s flighty cokehead sister (Charity, played by Elyse Levesque) and her spoiled ignoramus husband (Fitch, played by Kristian Bruun).

(Side note: I’ve got Tony for Greed, Helene as Wrath, Becky for Lust, Daniel as Gluttony, Emilie is Pride, Charity is Envy, and Fitch as Sloth. If you’ve seen the movie and you’ve got a better matchup, please leave a comment.)

Rounding out the supporting cast are John Ralston as the loyal family butler/enforcer; with Hanneke Talbot, Daniela Barbosa, and Celine Tsai as the hapless redshirt maids.

Anyway, there’s a family tradition for new “initiates” before they can formally be a part of the Le Domas clan — oh, sorry, the Le Domas “dominion”. See, because this family made their millions in board games, playing cards, sports franchises, and so on, the family insists on playing a random game with every new family member that comes along. In this particular instance, Grace is pressed into a game of “Hide and Seek”. With a few additional rules.

Long story short (Too late!), the Le Domas family believes that they have to not only find Grace, but kill her in some elaborate ritual before dawn. She has to be offered up as a sacrifice to some dark god (the family calls him “Mr. Le Baile”) for their business and fortunes to prosper. Otherwise, if the ritual is not completed, the whole family dies.

It’s important to note that the “Hide and Seek” ritual game only happens once in a blue moon — to be exact, the last time was thirty years ago. Despite all their ridiculous posturing, none of them (with one or two exceptions) are especially ready, willing, or practiced at hunting down and killing a human being — not even an unarmed and untrained girl in a house she’s never been to before. Moreover, pretty much everyone in the family seems to genuinely like Grace and they don’t really want to hurt her. And yet they feel the compulsive need to, because of the vague threat of something awful happening, based on some alleged deal with the devil that happened generations ago.

So what we have here are a family of wealthy assholes who (supposedly) got rich by obediently following arbitrary and fucked-up rules made ages ago by people long dead. The rules cannot be broken or made to adapt with the times because these people know in their bones without any shred of proof that they won’t survive. And even if they could survive, they are so hopelessly dependent, so inextricably immersed in the system that they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if they could live outside the rules or rewrite them. So the family hands down these rules through the years, teaching each new generation how to normalize and justify the most horrific and evil bullshit because it’s all part of “playing the game”.

In short, it’s a cleverly sinister allegory for capitalism. Nicely done.

Of course family is another prominent theme. This comes into much sharper focus upon learning that Grace grew up in the foster system and only ever wanted to be part of a family. There is comfort in having a safety net, with people and traditions that will always be there for you through thick and thin, no matter what happens. The drawback, of course, is that this same mentality of “tradition must be preserved or it means nothing” and “I’d do anything for my family” can be used to justify literally any kind of unspeakable behavior when taken to their logical conclusion. After all, this is how cults operate. And as the film points out, this is how wealthy and powerful dynasties operate as well.

It certainly helps that while Le Baile is portrayed as a monolithic evil, the family itself never is. These are all totally different extreme personalities, all butting heads on any number of large and petty topics. As alliances and consciences shift, we’re always kept guessing as to who will do what and which new squabble will break out next. Even Alex himself — devoted though he is to his new wife — is firmly tied to his family in a way that makes him an unknown factor. Even if his loyalty to his wife is as rock-solid as he says (and that’s a huge if), his strengths and weaknesses are still intimately known to the other family members, so there’s always the possibility of getting outnumbered and/or outmaneuvered.

All of this variety makes for an unpredictable ensemble dynamic, which in turn makes the film scarier, funnier, and more engaging. The drawback, however, is in the uneven cast. Adam Brody is a standout, and Andie MacDowell is a hundred times more interesting now than she was in her uber-bland ’80s/’90s heyday. Then we’ve got actors like Henry Czerny and Nicky Guadagni, both of whom relentlessly chew scenery in ways that are great fun to watch without ever entirely compensating for the thin characters. Compare that to Melanie Scrofano, Kristian Bruun, and Elyse Levesque, all of whom chew scenery and somehow remain totally forgettable. John Ralston is trying so damn hard to play the heavy, but he’s simply not cut out for it. Hanneke Talbot, Daniela Barbosa, and Celine Tsai are all sadly disposable, obviously put in for the sole purpose of generating (admittedly funny) kills so the film could be marketed as a horror.

And what of our main couple? Well, Mark O’Brien is easily the weak link here. The man is so completely unmemorable and void of charisma that I could have a copy of his headshot in my hand and I still couldn’t pick him out of a lineup. Obviously, this does a lot of damage to the central premise, as the newly-minted Grace/Alex marriage is a central emotional pillar of the story. Luckily, Grace is such a compelling character on her own merit that her deadly game of “Hide and Seek” is more than engaging enough to compensate.

Which brings us to Grace herself. Samara Weaving is… well, she’s certainly not bad. Far from it, she’s more than strong enough to carry the film and she does a stellar job selling every moment of this agonizing character’s journey. Seriously, there are times when the character suffers so much, and she’s coated in so many bodily fluids, this performance might have been right at home in a Sam Raimi picture.

Speaking of Sam Raimi, Crawl came out just over a month ago, and that was headlined by a solid lead performance from Kaya Scodelario. Sure, Weaving’s performance is superior, but she also had the better role in the better film. I’m not really sure what Weaving brought to the table that Scodelario couldn’t have. And why do we need either of them when we still have a perfectly good Margot Robbie hanging around?

Overall, I had a fantastic time with Ready or Not. While it never reaches the same heights of Cabin in the Woods, I would definitely put the two films in the same class, subverting and deconstructing horror movie tropes to make a greater point. It certainly helps that the film is loaded with whip-smart satire, the supernatural horror elements are utilized superbly, and the macabre sense of humor is delightful. Yes, the cast is uneven, but that doesn’t make the ensemble work any less effective. And even if I’m skeptical of Samara Weaving’s long-term career prospects, her work here is solid enough.

It’s smart, it’s bold, it’s incisive, it’s a bloody and comical good time. Definitely check this one out.

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