Sunday, 29 September 2019

Ready Or Not

Ready, Play Her, Run

Ready Or Not
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
2019 Canada/USA
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Very mild spoilers on one of the deaths.

Ready Or Not was a film I took a hard pass on when it played at FrightFest earlier in the year. Why? Well, because the concept is old and tired out and the trailer made it look really bad. However, by the time it got a general release in the UK, I was really looking forward to it. This is because I’d spent a fairly pleasant half an hour talking to a horror film critic (and nice guy), sitting on the little inner wall which goes around Leicester Square, opposite what we all still call the Empire cinema and exchanging views on various horror movies we both loved. He said that the reaction to Ready Or Not at FrightFest had been overwhelmingly the best audience reaction he’d ever seen at a screening ever and he said it was an absolutely brilliant movie. So I knew I would have to get around to it at some point and I was aware it would be getting a general cinema release a month or so after FrightFest. That being said, he also said something which I’m still kind of mulling over and trying to make sense of. In terms of this film I think this is a bit of a red herring and I wish I’d have known that when he told me... that the film has one of the best twist endings ever which “you will absolutely not see coming”. Well... I’ll tackle that thorny issue in a little while.

Ready Or Not is a movie which really shouldn’t be as watchable as it is. Kind of a souped up version of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little N... oh wait, I’m not allowed to call books by their original, racially problematic titles anymore because modern people are unable to wear historically contextual blinkers, it would seem. Let me try that again then... it’s kind of a souped up version of the Agatha Christie book which would later come to be known as both And Then There Were None and Ten Little Indians at various times but with no skimping on the goriness which can often be a part and parcel of murderous violence... and with a big, campy dose of comedy thrown in for good measure. A cocktail combining these elements and then liberally mixed with a big jug of The Most Dangerous Game (aka The Hounds Of Zaroff).

The film concerns a couple getting married... Grace, played by Samara Weaving and Alex Le Domas, played by Mark O'Brien, who is part of a fictional family, the Le Domas gaming empire. Traditionally, the couple are married in front of the Manor House the family makes their home, which they do and, also traditionally, they have to play a game starting at midnight to become properly part of the family... which they do and which is where this movie gets its title from. The ritual involves the new bride pulling a card from an antique box which tells the family what game they will be playing that night. Quite often it’s something normal like Backgammon or Old Maid but, every now and again, a bride will pull the ‘bad’ card. The card which helps fulfill the family pact with the devil which allowed the gaming empire to become rich and prosperous in the first place. When this card is pulled, the bride or groom, whoever the new family member is, is not made aware of all the rules, often until it is too late. So of course, Grace pulls the one card that her new husband has feared she might... Hide And Seek.

So she has to go and hide and stay hidden without being found until dawn. What she isn’t told.... but finds out soon after, is that the rest of the family, coming ready or not after a count of one hundred, are armed to the teeth and need to wound or maim her long enough to bring her back and perform a sacrificial ritual on her, offering her life for their continued charmed existence or, if they fail, they themselves will die. It doesn’t take long for Grace to find this little twist to the rules out, however... and so the film becomes a grimly humorous game of cat and mouse where Grace is fighting for survival amongst a clan of psychotic killers who mean her some considerable harm.

And it’s nicely done. There are some hugely funny shots of humour injected into the thing, such as a running joke where ‘the help’ keep getting accidentally and horrendously killed by the family (including Grace herself, who manages to ‘take out’ one of the house staff by crushing her in a dumb waiter). There are also some genuinely edgy moments of suspense and little, sharp punctuations of violence which help pile on the odds as Grace tries to outrun the various family members... one such moment being when she is trying to escape a pit in the goat shed where the skeletons of other victims of the game have been left to rot over the decades.

It’s also nicely acted. There’s not a bad one in the cast which includes the always watchable Andie MacDowell and Adam Brody (who played the puzzlingly adult version of Captain Marvel Jr in the recent SHAZAM! movie, which I reviewed here). And special mention to Nicky Guadagni who plays a wonderful character called Aunt Helene who has, frankly, the best, comically outrageous, permanently grumpy stare to her face ever and who livens up every scene with just her bad mood in general.

It’s a fun film but my one disappointment comes, well not from the film itself but, with what I was told about the ending with it’s wonderful, revealing twist. And the reason for that disappointment is...

There is no twist.

No reveal at all. Everything plays out, surprisingly predictably all the way through. This film has absolutely no surprises... you know just when Grace will be caught to further the next bit of the story and, if you’ve been listening to the family history at all, you’ll almost certainly know how various people are going to die in the film's last ten minutes. It’s all right there in the dialogue and... yeah... I still can’t see what the guy meant by a final twist. I don’t think there’s any pretense of a reveal even... the story just plays out exactly how you think it will and then it finishes. You know just who will be the ‘final girl’ of the movie and, while it shouldn’t work, the film is so nicely written in terms of dialogue and the performance of it by an incredible team of skilled actors, that you don’t really care how old and jaded the plot is. Meanwhile, I’m still puzzling over what could possibly be thought of as a final twist. It kind of got my hopes up that something new was coming and... it didn’t.

That aside though, fans of both the slasher thriller and horror genres should take a look at Ready Or Not, which combines both those genres and has a fun time doing it. I’d even recommend it to people who aren’t into those kinds of movies because the goriness is not, too excessive and it’s almost always used to elicit a laugh rather than to shock. It’s a slight movie in terms of having much to say about anything (even family politics) but it’s good for an evening’s entertainment at your local cinema and the few audience members who I saw it with in the almost empty screening on opening night all seemed appreciative of it and there were a lot of laughs. Not sure it’s something I’d watch again but good for a one off watch, for sure.

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