Ready Or Not Featured

We are midway through August and here is READY OR NOT. August can be a tough time at the theatres in the late 2010’s. The standout films of the early summer have largely come and gone. Or, if they are still hanging on, you have seen them already.

The studios have little interest in helping you, they’re just here to dump some stuff they hope you will see out of desperation.

However, sometimes you get the sweetest fruit during fallow periods. Whether it is lower expectations or just kismet, every now and again, the Fates deem to deliver onto us desperate moviegoers a delightful surprise.

Folks, allow me to introduce you to READY OR NOT.

Ready or Not: Grace Takes A Card
Samara Weaving will be less happy with that card very soon in READY OR NOT. (Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

The Idea Behind READY OR NOT

For Grace (Samara Weaving), that past year and a half have been a fairy tale. A foster child who never got to live anywhere long, she nonetheless met and fell in love with Alex (Mark O’Brien). Alex is the youngest member of the Le Domas gaming family, a close-knit group with generations of having far too much money to use wisely under their belts. In one man, she found the family she craved and a man to build her life with. All that remains is the wedding. Surely after the wedding, they’ll finally stop barely tolerating her. Yeah, even Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni) and her unblinking stare.

Except that’s not it. When the wedding and the reception ends, Grace finds herself with one final barrier. A family tradition. At midnight, Grace must join her new family for a game. And we mean the entire family. The aforementioned Aunt. Dad Tony (Henry Czerny) who’s every friendly gesture is undone by his tone. Mom Becky (Andie MacDowell) who is already pressing you to make Alex come around more. Alex’s siblings, the drunk Daniel (Adam Brody) and polysubstance enthusiast Emilie (Melanie Scrofano) are there too along with their spouses, the largely disliked Fitch (Kristian Bruun) and the very intense Charity (Elyse Levesque). Both of them have done this before Grace and although they all admit it is odd, they all agree it is not big deal. But then the card comes up “Hide and Seek,” and things got very dire very quickly.

It turns out Hide and Seek is the exception. Hide and Seek involves a lot more…effort on the part of the family then chess or Old Maid. And a lot more weapons.

Ready or Not: Father-Son Bondying
Heny Cznery and Adam Brody do some father-son hunting in READY OR NOT. (Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

Writing READY OR NOT

For both Ryan Murphy (not the one you are thinking of) and Guy Busick, READY OR NOT is their first feature length script. Murphy has contributed segments to a couple of anthologies and Busick has mostly done TV with a story credit on another rich people parlor piece URGE.

If one is seeking that “eat the rich” satire, they may be disappointed. What the movie has to say about it is pretty straightforward. The rich have spent years making horrible deals to keep themselves on top and are so indebted to those deals they dare not stop. They would rather kill us all then face the music. However, they’ve also gotten slow and dull under their largesse. If we fight back, well, things could get ugly for them in a hurry.

Speaking of hurry, READY OR NOT begins sweet and slow with the daytime wedding. However, the moment Auntie Helene demonstrates a lack of boundaries comes with that stare, the film moves. There is plenty of exposition, but Busick and Murphy make sure it is never given standing still. The writing duo makes sure to pair the action and the explanation in equal measure. Think of it a bit like Mary Poppins. A bit of sugar to make us take that exposition medicine.

That desire to move sometimes feels like it skips too quickly past opportunities. The Le Domas’ house is a beautiful set that promises a ton but is explored not nearly as much as I would like. However, that’s grading against my desire to really explore that space. To accept the script on its own terms it is lean and mean with a smart bit of quickshot characterization for nearly every member of the expansive cast.

Time for A Game
The READY OR NOT gang’s all here. (Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

Casting the Leads of READY OR NOT

Samara Weaving makes a winning protagonist, both as the happy bride and the increasingly desperate and dangerous prey to the Le Domas family. Her ability to play overmatched but unwilling to accept it is the perfect tone for the film. She is always competent, but never to the point that you still don’t feel like she is immediate hazard. It’s rare an actor can play that dichotomy without tipping over in either direction.

As new husband Alex, Mark O’Brien frequently feels fuzzy around the edges, a bit indistinct. I cannot say if this an acting choice on his part or just a result of the role being underwritten. In practice, however, it works. Alex needs to play both second fiddle to Grace and his family. His vagueness comes especially in handy during his last two scenes with Weaving where they both get to hit some interesting notes.

Ready or Not: Alex and Grace
Mark O’Brien struggles to make Samara Weaving focus in READY OR NOT. (Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

Casting the Rest of the Callsheet

There is so much delightful about this ensemble. I mean delight in a homicidally oriented way, but still. Delightful.

Adam Brody probably has the heaviest lifting, with the exception of Weaving, in the movie and handles it very well. Perhaps it is because I have seen him in so little as of late, but his cynical defeated older brother was a welcome surprise of range for him.

I have not seen Andie MacDowell since LOVE AFTER LOVE, a bleak affair she was quite good in. However, in a smaller, less flashy part, she has turned in another strong performance. It buckles a little when the movie asks her to go a bit over the top but otherwise, it really does seem MacDowell has developed some chops.

Kristian Bruun and Melanie Scrofano play great buffoons of different shades. Nicky Guadagni makes for a both comedic relief and arguably the scariest family member, a true believer who made her tragic past a reason to cling more to tradition rather than reject them. Elyse Levesque is all icy intensity for 96% of her lines which makes the moment she briefly loses it a great little bit.

I could go on. But, like a side, a delightfully homicidal ensemble.

Kristian Bruun, Melanie Scrofano, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, and Elyse Levesque have a tough night in READY OR NOT. (Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

Directing READY OR NOT

As with the writers, I, at times, found myself frustrated with the Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett directing duo. The house seems like a dream location full of opportunity, but they largely seem disinterested in realizing that opportunity.

They also seem a little too in love with depicting the wounds our protagonist must endure in her attempt to survive her in-laws. A moment involving a fence, in particular, seemed a bit much. It is not the gore in that moment, just the amount of time on it.

On the other hand, the duo has an eye for detail in chaos. The jangly way they follow Grace running around the grounds or capture a car accident simulates both the experience without losing what is important in the frame. They let you feel the bounce and sway but also let the shots run, keeping the editing minimal. It puts you alongside the characters while still letting you see the action unfold.

They also make strong use of the full frame. The movie has few jump scares but the duos choice to so often center Weaving while she runs through corridors with lots of place to hide or step out from still produces anxiety. You cannot help but hunt around the borders looking for someone to get the jump on her. It keeps the screws turning.

Ready or Not: Grace's Got A Gun
Samara Weaving would like to leave you with a parting shot in a scene from READY OR NOT. (Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

The Ending of READY OR NOT (Vague Spoilers)

There are very vague spoilers in the next paragraph. If you are someone who fears all spoilers, scroll quickly past them or simply bail now.

Ready (or not….hahaha)?

Here we go.

No ending this year is exactly what it promises you it will be as much READY’s. It is wonderful in its literalness. It lends this amusing surrealness to the movie’s climax. As much as I was enjoying it, its wicked sense of humor in its final 10 minutes put it over the top.

Ok, that was it. Those were the spoilers.

Moving on…

That’s a Wrap

I am a sucker for ensemble pieces with limited locations where black as pitch comedy sometimes encounters surprising bits of drama. That is READY OR NOT all over. While not perfect, it turns out great work from every member of its ensemble. Weaving in the lead, playing the other side of the horror movie slate from her work on BABYSITTER, is just great. Add in a doom drenched score that messes with your head and some above average camera work, and you got me.

Olly olly oxen free, movie fans. Come out of your hiding spots and make the trip to the movies for READY OR NOT.

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