It doesn’t take a genius to discern that Guy Busick and Ryan Christopher Murphy’s script for “Ready or Not” was inspired by Jordan Peele’s surprise smash “Get Out,” substituting class for race. But the movie’s combination of horror, dark comedy and social commentary, while a substantial improvement over directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s previous effort, the dreary found-footage “Rosemary’s Baby” clone “Devil’s Due,” is nowhere near as deftly handled as it was in Peele’s film.
The goofy story—and be aware that the following précis contains spoilers, so proceed with caution should you wish to see the film blissfully ignorant of its plot—revolves around the wedding of Grace (Samara Weaving), a young woman brought up in a foster home, to clean-cut Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien). He’s part of a well-to-do family whose fortune was founded on board games but now has exploded via ownership of sports franchises. The Le Domas clan is headed by Tony (Henry Czerny) and his wife Becky (Andie MacDowell), who live in the opulent estate where the ceremonies are about to occur.
Among the guests are the other family members. The most grotesque of the bunch is Tony’s surly sister Helene (Nicky Guadagni). But also present are Alex’s rather dissolute brother Daniel (Adam Brody) and his wife Charity (Elyse Levesque), along with their sons Georgie (Liam MacDonald) and Gabe (Ethan Tavares); and his drug-addict sister Emilie (Melanie Scrofano) and her cowardly husband Fitch (Kristian Bruun). Also on hand are servants, several maids but most notably the devoted family butler Stevens (John Ralston), who seems to be obsessed with classical music, especially Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
The Le Domases are none too receptive to Grace, with Tony and Helene most obviously hostile, Becky apparently on the fence, and Daniel most accepting. It’s not their attitude that’s really problematic, though: it’s a tradition they have—that newlyweds must participate in a game on their wedding night, which will be determined by the bride’s choice of a card from a mystical box that, Tony explains, has been the key to the clan’s fortunes since it was acquired in the nineteenth century. By chance (or perhaps not), the card turns out to be hide and seek, under the rules of which the bride must hide and the family members must find her—and kill her before dawn. If they don’t, Tony explains, they will all die horribly, victims of a Satanic curse associated with that wealth-bringing box.
So begins the long night’s journey into day, a cats-and-mouse pursuit in which many will die (starting with the maids, two of whom are accidentally dispatched by the addled Emilie) and concluding with a literally splashy bloodbath. Along the way Grace’s bridal grown becomes saturated with gore as she tries to elude the family members who—save for Alex, who tries to help her escape, and Daniel, who is of two minds about the business, sporadically exhibits what in this context passes for mercy.
Of course you’re not meant to take this nonsensical business seriously, especially since it’s played like a parody of creaky old melodramas, with the cast encouraged to put across the mood of breathless dementia at the highest possible pitch. Czerny, Guadagni and Ralston embrace the style most enthusiastically, though the others aren’t far behind, and Weaving conveys both the tremulousness of poor Grace in the early stages of the chase and her steely resolve as she, though reluctantly, does whatever it takes to survive (she even—horror of horrors—punches a kid out cold at one point, though it must be admitted that there’s provocation). In the early scenes she even adds a suggestion that Grace might just be a bit of the gold-digger the family assumes she is.
All of this is done up in full-bore Grand Guignol style, not only from the performance standpoint but in terms of setting. Andrew M. Stearn’s production design is extravagant, to say the least—the interior of the Le Domas mansion is as tackily flamboyant as you could wish—and Brett Jutziewicz’s widescreen lensing gives the visuals a lush, glossy look.
But even with the cast giving their all, the effort of Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett (along with editor Terel Gibson) to keep things moving at a furious pace, and a score by Brian Tyler italicizing the gruesome shocks, “Ready or Not,” while an efficient genre piece, can’t help running down as the ridiculous twists and turns pile up en route to a drawn-out finale and a limp punch-line. (A sequence in which Stewart pursues Grace on the estate grounds, for instance, is cruelly overextended, as well as sloppily choreographed.)
This may satisfy viewers wanting a tongue-in-cheek gorefest with a smidgen of social commentary, but it lacks the edge and subtlety of “Get Out,” its obvious model. It’s also worthy of wondering why “The Hunt” has been—even if temporarily—shelved while this movie, which carries a similar theme, hasn’t elicited equally vociferous criticism from the likes of Laura Ingraham and the folks at Fox and Friends. Could the Fox connection (even if the ties between the various divisions of the former Murdoch empire are now severed) be one of the reasons?