Samara Weaving in READY OR NOT | ©2019 Fox Searchlight

Samara Weaving in READY OR NOT | ©2019 Fox Searchlight

Rating: R
Stars: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Michael O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Melanie Scrofano, Kristian Bruun, Nicky Guadagni, Elyse Levesque, John Ralston
Writers: Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy
Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Release Date: August 21, 2019

READY OR NOT is at heart a riff on THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME. Unlike the abruptly pulled-from-release THE HUNT, though, it’s unlikely anybody is going to worry about READY OR NOT making some kind of political statement. Well, okay, the statement that kids generally accept whatever their families do as normal is arguably political, but most people on both sides of the aisle can agree with that one.

Instead, READY OR NOT is a full-throttle entry in the horror subgenre of the unsuspecting new spouse who finds out the hard way that the in-laws are unusually problematic. Here, we get an opening sequence of a well-dressed man running in panic through the corridors of a mansion, pursued by other well-dressed people, who are armed with all manner of weapons.

Thirty years later, we have Grace (Samara Weaving), on the verge of her marriage to Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien). Grace comes from a series of foster homes and would love to be part of a family, even though Alex warns her that his is very messed up. The Le Domas “dominion,” as they like to be called, have amassed incredible wealth through their empire of games: board games, card decks, professional sports, you name it. Everyone from patriarch Tony (Henry Czerny) to severe Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni) to Alex’s unhappy brother Daniel (Adam Brody) is eager to tell Grace that tradition is all-important to the family.

Tradition, in this case, means first that any new marriage must take place on the grounds of the vast Le Domas estate, where the prologue occurred. So far, so good. Then, as Alex tells Grace once the ceremony is over, a game must be played at midnight. Exactly which game is determined by the draw of a card. The family members believe, with varying degrees of intensity, that something terrible will happen if the game is not played, or if it does not reach a successful conclusion by dawn. Grace of course thinks this is absurd, and Alex tends to agree with her, but once it’s clear exactly how seriously the family takes this, the game is on in more ways than one.

READY OR NOT movie poster | ©2019 Fox Searchlight

READY OR NOT movie poster | ©2019 Fox Searchlight

Because of how the screenplay by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy is laid out, it’s not hard to guess some aspects of what will happen. There is a lot of fun in getting there, though. For one thing, because this particular game is played relatively rarely, only a few member of the Le Domas family have the slightest idea of how to go about their murderous quest. This leads to a fair amount of deftly performed comedy by a very adroit cast. For another, Weaving (who played the title character in THE BABYSITTER, which dealt with some of the same subject matter) is skillful and persuasive in every phase of Grace’s role.

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett have a visual flair that lovingly evokes old Hammer horror films. They’re not afraid of gore, but they exercise discretion in deciding whether or not to linger in specific moments. They also have dexterity with their timing, so that our sympathy for Grace increases without sacrificing laughs at the expense of her pursuers.

The filmmakers also create some suspense about which way certain characters will turn out in the end. READY OR NOT doesn’t delve too deep here; it sustains our curiosity without trying to hit our emotions too hard.

Some horror comedies are funny because the characters are doofuses. READY OR NOT is funny because it’s been made by a lot of smart people who always know what they’re doing, even when the characters are stumped by their own expectations.

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