The tagline for Ready or Not — “a killer game of hide and seek” — sounds like the kind of pitch that a Gordon Gekko-haired studio executive would whisper dramatically to a couple of green, giddy screenwriters. Fortunately, writers Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy use the silly premise as a springboard to explore timely issues of class and mass mayhem.
The film revolves around Grace (Samara Weaving) on her wedding day. She’s marrying Alex (Mark O’Brien), a good-natured guy who seems out of place in his garish family. Their fortune was built on board games, and we soon discover that they are deadly serious players.
A family wedding-night tradition calls for the bride to choose a game at random. Sadly, Grace picks hide and seek, which means she has to stay hidden until dawn while the family hunts her to the death. If they don’t win, they think their empire will crumble like one of their old board game boxes.
You might wonder why so many people would indulge in this insane ritual. Well, just think about all those who followed Hitler into hell or the millions of Americans who voted the devil into presidential office. Ironically, Ready or Not was pitched the day after Trump’s election.
The film captures the banality of evil. Henry Czerny’s performance is particularly effective in conveying the unsettling rationale behind the ritual. He’s creepily matter-of-fact in explaining why the bloody deed needs to be done. Adam Brody plays the most complex family member, subtly revealing the quietly crippling weight of his conflicted feelings about the grisly tradition. However, Weaving is the true standout, creating what A Nightmare on Elm Street scream queen Heather Langenkamp would call “a rare combination of sweet and badass.” You’ll find yourself rooting for her throughout the entire film.
Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (members of the film collective Radio Silence) bring a somewhat intrusive style. The handheld camerawork awkwardly clashes with the quaint, castle-like setting and Hammer horror-era costumes. But they create a delicate balance between the sinister and satirical elements. The film isn’t exactly a new horror classic, but it’s certainly a fun time at the movies. The third act is easily the best.
Ready or Not culminates in one of the most surprising, cathartic and uproariously hilarious sequences of the year. It’s like the moment you’re found in an actual game of hide and seek. You’ll find yourself catching your breath but quickly feeling relieved.