The “bad in-laws” trope advances to the next level in Fox Searchlight’s horror/comedy, “Ready or Not.”
Samara Weaving stars as Grace, a former foster child whose wide-eyed enthusiasm is as charming as her talent for profanity. The story begins on her wedding day when her fiancé Alex (Mark O’Brien) offers Grace one last chance to call it off. The blushing bride refuses, of course, and the nuptials proceed as planned in the garden of his wealthy family’s estate. Later that night, Alex breaks the news to Grace that there is one ritual they absolutely cannot avoid. Whenever someone new joins the family, they are required by generations of tradition to play a game. For a family that sits atop a board game empire, that could mean a rousing round of Backgammon, Go Fish, or Parcheesi. Through a bit of pomp and circumstance, Grace draws a card and reveals her game will be the one option no one wants: Hide and Seek.
From the opening sequences, “Ready or Not” clearly establishes itself as both cheeky and cynical. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett build a deceptively thoughtful family drama hidden beneath a darkly hilarious gore fest. While the story unfolds and the blood begins to spill, past traumas and old scores surface.
Family patriarch Tony Le Domas (Henry Czerny) instructs Grace to hide. They’ll count to 100 and then start looking for her. But it isn’t long before she learns that if they find her, they will kill her. They aren’t exactly happy about it, but those are the rules. The Le Domas family legacy includes tales of pacts with the devil and rumors of gruesome deaths for those who don’t play along. Who are they to argue with generations of history?
While Grace hides, everyone else pairs up. Everyone except Alex, who is determined to protect the woman he loves. Siblings, spouses, and parents split into groups that explore the dynamics of a splintered family held together only by necessity and money. Daniel (Adam Brody), for instance, is the rumpled, drunk brother who would have turned his back on the family long ago if he could have. His gold-digging wife, Charity (Elyse Levesque), is far more willing to participate in the twisted ritual. Matriarch Becky (Andie MacDowell) just wants her family all back together. Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni) is hilariously sinister and disapproving. And then there is Emilie (Melanie Scrofano), unhappily married to Fitch (Kristian Bruun), a clearly disappointing son-in-law.
It is possible to watch “Ready or Not” and see only an uncomfortably funny movie that relishes in blood and guts. But it would be unfortunate to overlook this examination of what it means to be family and the toll it can take when one fails to live up to expectations. The bond that connects the Le Domas family is tenuous and diabolical, but it is still a bond. Even a scene that shows a child brandishing a weapon becomes terrifying for a deeper reason that has less to do with the gun than why he is willing to use it.
The script, co-written by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy, is smart and wry, and doesn’t waste time providing unnecessary exposition. This is also a story that doesn’t rely too heavily on a third act twist or a sudden, earth-shattering revelation. And while some of the action or dialogue is easily spotted ahead of time, parts of the story aren’t so much predictable as inevitable.
“Ready or Not” is playful and weird and crafty. Samara Weaving is a delightful star on the rise and Adam Brody emerges as a surprising favorite. The house is sufficiently creepy and mysterious, and the chemistry between all the actors is fiery perfection. This movie is a perfect transition from the summer’s imbalanced offerings and the promise of a glorious fall slate.