Ready Or Not (2019)

Marriage — especially the ceremony itself — can be terrifying. The best horror movies take a frightening moment in our lives and show how “what’s the worst that can happen” explodes outward into a spiraling miasma of sheer madness. In a year sadly bereft of many great — or even halfway decent — horror films, Ready Or Not has arrived to squarely punch you right in the face and spit blood in your eye.

For generations, the wealthy Le Domas family has remaining in power by conducting a ritual on the night that anyone new enters the family. Tonight, prodigal son Alex has returned home to marry Grace (the niece of Hugo Weaving, who also appeared in The Babysitter and Mayhem), an orphan who has been raised in foster homes.

Years ago, the great-great-grandfather of the Le Domas family made a deal with Mr. Le Bail and the family must play one game — they’re pretty much Hasbro in real life — at the end of the wedding cerenomy. It could be something as simple as Old Maid. Yet it ends up being the worst card — Hide And Seek.

Now, the entire Le Domas family is hunting down Grace, who only thinks that she’s playing a game. Maid after maid gets caught in the crossfire and the entire extended family — children included — are armed, dangerous and after our heroine.

Henry Czerny shines as Tony Le Domas, the crazed leader of the clan, and Andie McDowell is wonderful as his somewhat conflicted wife Becky. One of the relationships at the center of this film is between good brother Alex and bad sibling Daniel ((Adam Brody, Seth from The O.C.). Of course, this being horror, what is good and what is evil will change throughout this long night of the soul.

There are parts of this film that aspire to be more than mere slasher or modern horror. That’s a good thing. It may be me reading into things, but the scene where Grace escapes into the fields was reminiscent of the framing and pace of Suzy Kendall being chased in Sergio Martino’s Torso. And without giving too much away, the close finally delivers on the levels of gore and supernatural menace that has been slowly hinted during the film’s run time. Joyously, this feels like a movie with no dead spots, growing tighter and taunter as the slowly more blood-caked and torn wedding gown that Grace wears throughout.

I have to single out Nicky Guadagni, who was in Cube, for her portrayal of Helena. The loss of her husband at the film’s start has warped her into the twisted center of this family, despite what the male head would have you think. She’s turned her loss into less than sacrifice and more of a reason for being. Drug addict sister Emilie (Melanie Scrofano, the lead on SyFy’s Wynonna Earp) is pretty great, too.

So often, modern horror hasn’t been certain how to combine humor and terror. Ready Or Not gets it right. Then again, I have a weird sense of humor, so I laughed joyously at moments that no one else found funny. Too bad — I would have preferred to see this in a much rougher theater than the comfortable place where it unspooled so that people would have been unafraid to scream and yell at the screen. After all, that’s what movies are for.

Ready Or Not was directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin (V/H/S) and Tyler Gillett (Devil’s Due), who are part of the Radio Silence film collective. It was written by Guy Busick (Stan Against Evil) and Ryan Murphy (Minute’s Until Midnight).

I will spoil one part of the film. At the close, as Grace draws a drag of cigarette despite being covered in grime, gore, viscera and her own blood, there’s an echo of a movie from the past, Heathers. That made me clap in the theater — despite the machinations of family, the man she loves and even fate, Grace is not going away without a fight. Her spirit is one that even the devil must sit up and take notice of — quite literally.

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