Weddings can be murder; the dress doesn’t fit, the cake is the wrong flavour, and your husband’s entire family wants to brutally slaughter you. Thus is the central conceit of Ready or Not.
Modern #horror tends to favour bleak stories and jump scares these days, so perhaps it’s no surprise that this B-movie inspired flick is a welcome breath of fresh air. On the surface, it appears tactless, simple, and obtuse, but give this bride a chance and you’ll find razor sharp writing and a fast-paced, intense thriller wrapped up in a bloody wedding bow. While billed as a horror-comedy, Ready or Not keeps its tongue fully in cheek; it’s pure bloody satire, ripping the clichés of its over-serious horror roots to shreds with a blood-soaked smile and a knowing wink.
Grace is marrying Alex, whose uber wealthy family secretly make up a cult so ludicrously evil that they’d make the Manson Family blush. For only vaguely explained reasons, the family must play a game whenever a new member marries in. Grace draws Hide and Seek, one of only a few games of life or death, a plot point that exists purely to explain the extended family being alive. The family must now hunt Grace through their mansion and sacrifice her by dawn, lest they suffer a grisly fate. And you thought your in-laws were bad.
Amusingly, the plot is the kind of thing that mainstream studios would likely sell as a serious chase thriller; a lone woman is stalked by a pack of killers in an isolated location; it’s pretty done to death. Fortunately, Ready or Not knows this and revels in it by making every horror reference possible shy of the characters outright stating ‘we’re in a horror movie.’ In that sense, it’s a modern-day Scream. Nullifying the horror further is the choice to align us with the family as well as our protagonist. Being a slasher’s back seat killer creates wonderful behind the scenes comedy as the villains constantly critique genre staples; ‘we thought masks were a little too 80s,’ though it does remove any semblance of intimidation.
The premise allows for great set design; never-ending halls offer an impressive array of hiding places, though there is a disappointing lack of environment influenced kills. The few kills present utilise a healthy level of gore, though that smaller budget starts to rear its ugly head like an ex at a wedding, as unconvincing CGI blood geysers are more Sharknado esque than the film would like them to be. Equally, in Grace’s moments of peril, it’s difficult to fully empathise with her as (through no fault of the brilliantly sassy Samara Weaving), we never quite feel the impact of her physical pain, due in part to weak sound design. The editing doesn’t lend much of a severed hand either, as what should be the most intense moments of conflict are often difficult to see, due to choppy cuts and a camera that flails around like it’s a found footage film.
Fortunately, the film’s greatest strength, its comedic writing, is ably supported by a hilarious cast. While it would be wrong to describe any character as deep, they all consistently bring the giggles with animated, over the top performances. Questioning how to operate a crossbow or accidentally killing several of the cleaning staff could’ve been cringe inducing in the hands of less skilled actors, but almost all of the family bring a hyper stylised approach that lets their personalities pop with cartoonish flare. Even moments of character development, which could’ve easily jarred with the surreal tone, only serve to make these absurdly evil people all the more laughable. Stand outs include Kristian Bruun as the wonderfully apathetic Fitch, and Melanie Scrofano, whose childlike portrayal of Emilie makes her uselessness in battle all the more amusing. Less exciting is Mark O’Brien as the groom. Compared with the energetic charisma of his compelling wife, he’s a bit dull, failing to serve as either a properly engaging straight man or as another string to the comedic cast crossbow. Ultimately, he regrettably offers little more than acting as handsome set dressing.
In review, Ready or Not is a delightfully silly surprise. Through a simple premise and a whole-hearted embrace of tone, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have crafted a stylised and smart cult comedy that pokes endless gory fun at the horror genre. The writing is sharp witted and most of the core cast prove to be strong entertainers, with glorious pantomime acting. Satirical, quick witted, and fast-paced, Ready or Not is ready for you to walk down the aisle of your nearest cinema and say ‘I do’ to a ticket. You won’t have any regrets.