Ready or Not (2019)

You may not get to choose the family you’re born into, but you have all the say in the world about the family you marry into.  Some people get extremely lucky (see also:  Wofford, Todd), but I’ve also heard horror stories about cretinous in-laws who dedicate their lives to raining misery on the partners their children choose to marry.  Ready or Not takes that to the extreme by depicting a family of psychotic dilettantes who greet their newest member by hunting her for bloodsport.  The resulting movie is a wedding of Clue and The Most Dangerous Game, with Tim Burton’s cheerful, charcoal-dark humor sprinkled throughout the story, like overcooked rice onto an unlucky couple.  It’s weird, wild, and more than a little bit bloody, but if you can settle into its groove, you might find Ready a steady dose of junk food entertainment.

Our story begins with the nuptials of Grace (Samara Weaving) and Alex (Mark O’Brien).  She’s beautiful, poised, and from humble origins, while he hails from a family of starchy, repugnant aristocrats.  Alex’s clan regards Grace with an almost-comical contempt, as if she were a non-vintage bottle of bubbly.  They exchange vows on the grounds his family’s…I don’t know the right word here…castle?  That evening, our couple settles in for some post-wedding nookie, only to have it interrupted by his nutball aunt (Nicky Guadagni), who creepily informs them that it’s time to initiate Grace into the family.

This ritual takes the form of a randomly-selected game to be played at midnight.  The clan’s patriarch (Henry Czerny) delivers a charmingly crazy speech about how one of their ancestors made a pact to carry out this game night for newly-married members.  Ignore the rules and everybody gets punished.  Grace draws a card for Hide and Seek, which turns out to be the fuzzy end of the lollipop.  Her new family tries to muffle their gasps before sending Grace to find a hidey-spot.  The brood then gathers their muskets, axes, and crossbows and prepares to go a-huntin’ for the bride.

Much of Ready or Not is too silly to be scary, but’s also outlandish enough to be disarmingly funny.  Similar movies have gotten drunk on their own self-seriousness, a flaw this one successfully avoids.  The filmmakers stitch some social commentary into the fabric of the story, but even this is played for broad laughs:  Alex’s family members get depicted as either gleeful twits or savage lunatics, with most of them living in some form of spiritual squalor.  In the final act, we ride the film’s gloriously giddy goriness right off the rails, a move of which I completely approved.  To settle for blandness would’ve blunted much of the film’s satirical impact.

All of the performers strike just the right tone.  Weaving has a scream that seems built for this kind of movie, but she also projects real likability, which gives the movie some much-needed tension.  Andie MacDowell is perfect as the mother-in-law who waffles between sensitive and sadistic.   Czerny always seems to find just the right amount of muted fury and smirking urbanity necessary for a great villain.  He usually turns up in a movie just long enough to piss off the audience, so it’s nice to see him get some real time to shine.

In the States, Thanksgiving is one of the booziest holidays for one simple reason:  People either love or loathe being cooped with their families.  Ready or Not shows us one woman living the nightmare side of that scenario, wherein her snobby, spoiled in-laws subject her to a Thunderdome-style death-match.  This is cheap, disposable escapism, dressed in all its finest linens.

95 minutes.  R.

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Author: Todd Wofford

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