August is often thought of as a cinematic dumping ground for films that aren’t splashy and fun enough to release earlier in the summer or smart and classy enough for fall’s award season ramp-up, but you can toss that preconceived bullshit out the window right now. Ready or Not not only delivers ninety minutes of thrills, laughs, and glorious surprises, but it also offers up a brilliantly constructed skewering of class, wealth, and the people who fight ferociously to hold onto both. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe in delight, and you’ll walk out wanting to immediately explore lead Samara Weaving’s entire filmography — starting with a re-watch of Ready or Not.
Grace (Weaving, Mayhem) is a nervous bride-to-be. A former foster child about to marry into the enormously wealthy Le Domas family, she’s both aware of their gaming dynasty fortune and anxious as hell that she won’t fit in to fiance Alex’s (Mark O’Brien, Arrival) upper-crust billionaire clan. The family seems normal enough beyond the expected eccentricities of those disconnected from life’s harsh realities, and the ceremony at their remote estate goes off beautifully and without a hitch. The honeymoon period is short-lived, though, as Grace is summoned to the mansion’s family room to take part in a tradition reserved for occasions when an outsider joins the family.
She has to play a game, one randomly chosen from a “magic” card box, and win or lose the family welcomes her into their fold. Both of Alex’s siblings — older brother Daniel (Adam Brody, Jennifer’s Body) and younger sister Emilie (Melanie Scrofano, Saw VI) — saw their spouses endure the tradition with Charity (Elyse Levesque, Slumber Party Slaughter) and Fitch (Kristian Bruun, Orphan Black) having to play checkers and Old Maid, respectively. As the family watches with a mix of anticipation, glee, and fear, Grace draws the card for Hide and Seek. She has to hide, the family has to seek, and if they find her… they kill her.
Ready or Not establishes its characters and story setup with a rare mix of efficiency and effectiveness, and once the game starts the film never lets up until its fantastically satisfying conclusion and spot-on final line of dialogue. This is genre-loving, pop entertainment guaranteed to have viewers cheering, gasping, and aching from ninety minutes of smiling. Think The Most Dangerous Game but in the singular confines of a big, elaborately constructed house. Think You’re Next but with the entire family turning on the newcomer. Better yet, think Ready or Not, as the film marks its own territory in blood and giggles while firmly establishing the filmmakers as talents to watch and Weaving as a genre god ready to take on the world.
Directors Matt Bettinelli Olpin and Tyler Gillett are members of the Radio Silence collective responsible for “10/31/98” (the best segment in 2012’s V/H/S), an entertaining short in 2015’s Southbound, and the 2014 feature Devil’s Due, but their talents have never come together so stylistically and effectively as they do throughout the entirety of this film. Together with a sharp script (by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy (not that Ryan Murphy)) they craft a film delivering immense entertainment while brutally critiquing the concept of inherited wealth and the people who’ll do anything to retain it. The Le Domas family has held onto and grown their fortune across generations, but it comes at a price to others that the clan is more than happy to collect. The film’s take on it all is comical and exaggerated, but the eye for detail from the house’s interior design to the servant girls who look like they just stepped out of a Robert Palmer music video is impeccable.
You’ll get no more plot turns here as the film’s various reveals and revelations are pure joy to experience first-hand, but in addition to loving every minute of the movie you should prepare yourself to fall in love (again, if you’re lucky) with Weaving. She can play serious when necessary and shows an equal talent on that front, but her sweet spot just might be blending a bubbly charisma with gleeful carnage — imagine an ass-kicking Goldie Hawn and you’ll be in the bloody ballpark. Ready or Not sees her take the lead and prove she’s more than capable as the Converse and wedding dress-wearing bride, but she shines equally bright in a pair of under-seen gems from 2017. Both The Babysitter and Mayhem are genre blasts with big laughs, eye-catching violence, and smart turns by Weaving as she wades knee-deep through the bloody bedlam. There’s a fierceness to her, but it’s paired with wit, sharp comedic skills, and a mischievous grin that leaves uncertain of where things are heading but determined to go along with her anyway.
Weaving is the star — and she very much deserves to be a star, so get on that people — but the entire cast is just perfection with each performer and character given their own opportunities to shine. Brody is always a gift in any film he occupies, and that trend continues here with him (and his character) delivering the expected laughs and some surprising awareness. It’s a somewhat remarkable job of construction and execution that sees the film deliver an uninterrupted ninety minutes of fun thrills while still allowing time for character beats. Henry Czerny (Clear and Present Danger) has built a career playing the kinds of assholes you just love to hate, and he’s an absolute delight here (while still being an asshole). Andie MacDowell (Groundhog Day) lays on her Southern charms to welcome her new daughter-in-law, and you almost believe her regret when the night takes its deadly turn. Nicky Guadagni (Cube) is her own kind of stand-out as the bitter and bloodthirsty Aunt Helene who wouldn’t feel out of place in the Addams Family.
One of the film’s many joys is how it shapes its characters into more than mere cookie cutter pieces. The rich family members are the villains, but there’s dissent in their ranks, doubt in some of their hearts, and a sincerity in their wrong-headed actions. Similarly, while the character of Grace could have easily been interchangeable with any number of movies about unlikely female heroes forced to fight for their lives the character is more than just a good girl turned bad-ass. The filmmaking and Weaving’s performance remind us that this is a woman experiencing a dream she never thought could come true for her — love, a family, a future — and while she laughs off some of the absurdity of her night once things turn violent there’s a bittersweet nature to the loss. She’s as devastated as she is determined, and it’s an unexpectedly powerful nuance.
Ready or Not is more fun than you’ve ever had surviving a wedding, and it’s an experience you’ll want to immediately RSVP to again as soon as it ends. Seek it out, bring your friends, and try not to step in the revelry.