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The end of summer is an odd time for Hollywood. The blockbusters have gone, and the awards contenders have yet to make their presence felt. It's a time when movies that have trouble finding their place can often get dropped into theaters simply because studios aren't quite sure what to do with them. Case in point, it's far from shocking that this is when a movie like Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett's Ready or Not appears on the big screen. It's a film that defies easy categorization. Is it a black comedy? Is it a horror movie? Is it a thriller? Or possibly even an action movie?
The answer to all of those questions is "Yes." Ready or Not is all of those things. What's more, it's one of the best recent examples of every single one of them.
Grace (Samara Weaving) is getting married, and by doing so joining the wealthy Le Domas family — but as somebody who grew up in foster care, she's much more excited by being part of the actual family than interested in the money they have. Her fiance, Alex (Mark O'Brien), is a bit less excited, though. He's been estranged from his parents, siblings, and other relatives for some time, for reasons which become abundantly clear.
The Le Domas family makes their money from games — everything from card, to board, to professional sports — and so tradition requires any new member to play a game on the night of their wedding. It's a setup that seems ominously dark for a game of checkers or chess, but when Grace pulls the "Hide And Seek" card from a special puzzle box, it starts to become clear why. Alex becomes terrified, and the rest of the family gets serious. This is a game where the seekers are armed, and the one who is hiding ends up dead if found.
A setup like that is tailor made for a thriller, as Grace runs for her life from the crazed extended La Domas clan, which is why the first thing that surprises you is just how damn funny the movie is. It's black humor, to be sure, but the jokes are laugh-out-loud hilarious. Adam Brody gets some of the best lines as his character basically spends the whole movie drunk, and he openly displays hatred for his family. But Elyse Levesque as Daniel's cold-as-ice wife, ironically named Charity, and Henry Czerny as the family patriarch, Tony, also deserve special mention.
The movie is so funny, in fact, that when it shifts hard into the horror arenas you were expecting going in it feels that much more of a shock to the system. Don't be mistaken: Ready or Not is a violent and bloody horror film, and it pulls no punches. At the same time, it never loses its sense of humor. You'll find yourself cracking up at Grace's gallows humor — which never feels out of place, despite the very real violence that surrounds it.
The movie is a tight 95 minutes, and that alone inspires a "thank you" to the movie gods after a season full of features well over two hours in length. The script by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy is near perfectly paced. Nothing is wasted, with multiple seemingly-dangling plot threads cleverly maneuvered as red herrings, and everything serves the story. Tension is never completely broken, right up until the very end.
No review of Ready or Not can possibly be complete without talking about Samara Weaving. She's not a household name at the moment, but be prepared for that to change. Because of the nature of the film, not only is Weaving in nearly every scene, she also spends a fair number of them alone, forcing her to take the narrative on her shoulders, which she does with apparent ease.
Ready or Not asks a lot of Weaving. Her character is subject to violence and injury at levels that if listed out would seem deeply unpleasant. It gives her ample opportunity to play vulnerable and scared, but the story turns primarily highlight her as clearly capable and able to think her way through her situation in believable ways. She's going to jump to the top of every casting director's wish list after this, and if Ready or Not doesn't make her a star outright, it's going to land her the role that will.
I'm still not entirely sure how Ready or Not takes comedy, horror, suspense, and action and expertly balances them all on the head of a pin, or, in this case, the tip of a crossbow. It isn't 25% four different genres; it's 100% all of them at once. But it's phenomenal just how spectacularly it all comes together. If you were expecting the end of August to be a slow time at the movies, think again. Ready or Not is not to be missed, and deserves to be seen with the biggest crowds possible.