Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Writers: Guy Busick, Ryan Murphy
Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Andie MacDowell, Henry Czerny, Nicky Guadagni, Elyse Levesque, Kristian Bruun
Producers: Bradley J. Fischer, William Sherak, James Vanderbilt, Tripp Vinson
Music: Brian Tyler
Cinematography: Brett Jutkiewicz
Editors: Terel Gibson
Running time: 95mins
What’s the story: Newlywed Grace (Weaving) sees her wedding night become a wedding fright when her in-laws hunt her in a lethal game of Hide and Seek.
What’s the verdict: When it comes to the most unofficially remade movie ever, 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game must be a contender for the top spot. The ‘man hunting man’ premise has proved unnervingly durable… perhaps because secretly we’d all like to have a go? Ahem, moving on…
The story gets another airing in Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Ready or Not, which finds fresh twists on the old tale and boasts a star making turn from lead Samara Weaving.
Weaving is Grace, a former foster kid nervous about marrying into the Le Domas gaming dynasty. Or “dominion” as husband to be Alex (O’Brien) tells her before offering the option of eloping to escape his Old Money family.
Not difficult to see why the until-recently-estranged Alex wishes to scarper with his beautiful wife-to-be. His family are openly caustic and simmeringly weird. The wedding, in the brutally geographical gardens of the Le Domas estate, is more funereal than nuptial. Fearsome Aunt Helene (Guadagni) comically cannot hide her contempt at the interloper joining the ranks.
But, oddness turns into mayhem when the wedding night must make space for a family ritual. A Hellraiser-style puzzle box selects Hide and Seek, a game for all the family to play. The rules are simple: Grace hides in the vast mansion, the others seek. If she is found before dawn, the marriage is fatally annulled.
Whoever loses, Ready or Not is a winner. Inventive and witty, like the best horror comedies it knows when to go for giggles and when to go dark with the shocks.
Early chuckles come from Grace gamely playing along, unaware of the peril she is in. Further fun comes from the uber-wealthy family lacking any discernible skillset and racking up sizeable collateral damage in accidental kills.
Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy’s script packs a shotgun blast’s worth of social commentary into the havoc. The undeserving rich feed off the poor both for fun and to protect their livelihood, made explicit in a subplot that could divide opinion but delivers a memorable finale. In a telling note, Le Domas patriarch Tony (Czerny, with warmth free smile in place) recounts how the family’s gaming fortune was made during the American Civil War.
Well cast with familiar faces, Andie MacDowell does her best work in years as a sympathetic but pragmatic den mother and Adam Brody is sardonically ambiguous as Alex’s burnt out brother, Daniel. In a nice touch, those who’ve married into the family (Levesque as Daniel’s pull-the-ladder-up wife and Bruun as a worthless brother-in-law) are even more ruthless than the born-to-wealth Le Domases.
But, this is Weaving’s show. A strong screen presence in Joe Lynch’s similarly themed Mayhem and the Netflix blast The Babysitter, she confidently takes a step up to lead a studio backed project.
Much of Ready or Not’s impact is down to her believably freaked out performance, not allowing Grace to go full on The Bride, despite sporting an wedding dress and shotgun combo.
The gorgeous Gothic set design is polished by Brett Jutkiewicz’s oak-coloured, shadowy cinematography, and Terel Gibson’s editing keeps the pace swift and suspense high.
The only grumble is this is the least deserving cert 18 since Don Jon or The Green Mile. The (15-year-old) kids are gonna love it.