By: Jolie Featherstone
Ready or Not is a devilishly fun, macabre thriller that toys with the tumultuous nature of family and the blatantly unethical drive of the wealthy to maintain their status – with a dollop of blood thrown in for good measure.
Grace (Samara Weaving) is over the moon to be marrying Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien). Desperate to be a part of a family and snuggle into a sense of belonging that she never had, Grace is excited to join the Le Domas family, though not without a few common nervous hang-ups. Spirited Grace is constantly buffeted by the cold tides of the wealthy and guarded Le Domas family. Made up of jaded, neurotic, and self-absorbed characters, they exude an air of insouciance and narcissism reserved for those who live within the solid, wrought-iron gates of old money. On their wedding night, Grace is pulled into an unexpected tradition. On the night of a wedding, the entire family, including the new addition, must partake in a game at exactly midnight. Unfortunately for Grace, this game turns out to have a fatal twist.
Although Ready or Not offers plenty of blood and guts, it conjures the whodunnit mystique of a classic haunted house flick a la William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill with a modern bend. The element that sets Ready or Not apart is its deft choreography between horror and hilarity. The members of the Le Domas family are far more menacing in daylight and far more ludicrous after dark.
The film weaves clear-eyed criticism of financial and familial greed with exasperated commiseration with anyone who’s had to weather the often tumultuous transition of bringing together a dysfunctional family. It does so within a Christian-based paranormal context. Our hero, not-so-subtly named Grace, undergoes severe physical harm and pain whilst defending against a demonic and oppressive terror (a rusty nail through the hand is a direct nod).
It’s important to note that the film doesn’t overly-sexualize Grace. It’s not enough to have a bad-ass female lead (though Grace certainly is that). As media-literate viewers, we’re demanding better from the filmmakers who tell stories about women. When it comes to pain and violence, this film doesn’t shy away from it but it is handled in a way that is not sexualized or gender-biased (if we don’t count the fate of the three maids, that is).
In contrast to the glacial and apathetic veneer of the Le Domas family, Grace is earthy and jolly. We see her happy and besotted with her husband, but she also doesn’t hesitate to express scepticism of Mark’s family and their hijinks. She’s human, especially in how she doesn’t want to believe that his family would undertake such a dark tradition and asks for their help throughout the “game”.
Ready or Not elicits plenty of chuckles, particularly in the scenes featuring the farcical Le Domas family. Shout out to Toronto-local Kristian Bruun for his delightfully outlandish portrayal of bumbling son-in-law, Fitch. Adam Brody delivers a heady performance as the tortured Daniel Le Domas, tormented by the lingering effects of his family’s past dark rituals. Andie McDowell is good as the cool matriarch with her feline-like selective affection. It would have elevated the over-arching family dynamic had McDowell been given more to work with from the script. I would love to have seen her take this role to insanely frenzied levels, much like the patriarch of the family.
Coming into the film, it’s not too hard to decipher where it will land. However, the twists and turns don’t lose their sense of fun and tension. Ready or Not is a darkly hilarious game of cat-and-mouse with a fresh sense of humour running throughout.
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Jolie Featherstone: @TOFilmFiles