Commercial horror has been in a rut for quite a while now. To set expectations straight right away, Ready or Not won't do much to change that situation. This is not a genre-defying film, neither is it a fresh take on the much maligned genre. There isn't anything here a seasoned horror fan hasn't seen before, that said Matt Bettinelli-Olpin en Tyler Gillett never gave the impression that they tried to shape the future of horror cinema. Instead, they made a perfectly executed genre film, one that is sure to please a lot of horror fans while keeping the appeal of the film broad enough to travel beyond its genre niche.
Bettinelli-Olpin & Gillett may not be the most familiar names, even to hardcore horror enthusiasts, but they've been building up their careers for quite a while now. They made a name for themselves directing several horror shorts, got featured in a couple of well-liked horror anthologies (V/H/S and Southbound) and went on to direct their first stand-alone feature (Devil's Due). While that wasn't a big success, it didn't deter them from pushing on. And it's a good thing they did, because Ready or Not is a poised to turn a few heads.
Their latest is a smart mix of horror and comedy elements that reinforce each other rather than get in each other's way. The horror/comedy blend is hardly new and it's often (and rightfully) seen as a somewhat cheap way to skimp on the execution of horror elements, but Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett clearly weren't trying to weasel their way out of anything. They put just as much effort into building up tension and providing gory kills as they do drawing laughs from the audience. It's a tricky balance and not everyone will have the same tolerance for comedy in horror films, but the skill on display here is exceptional.
Ready or Not revolves around Grace, a young girl who is about to get married into the Le Domas family. The Le Domas clan is a wealthy but somewhat recluse family living on a remote estate, heaving earned their fortune in the board game business. While all family members have their particular quirks, it's the family's post-marriage ritual that undoubtedly takes the cake for being the most peculiar. The newly introduced bride or groom has to draw a card and play the game written on said card. Most games are harmless, only the hide-and-seek option isn't quite as innocent as it sounds.
The remote family estate is the perfect setting for a horror flick and both directors make perfect use of the location. The endless hallways and richly decorated rooms are shot with a warm and cozy glow, benefiting from some very moody lighting and lush color toning. The camera work on the other hand is quite stark and supports the slightly absurd and deadpan sense of humor on display here. It makes for a very attractive and atmospheric film where form and function walk hand in hand.
While the soundtrack itself isn't too spectacular or noteworthy, it is edited and mixed in such a way that it provides a clear and distinctive rhythm. The music itself is pretty simple horror fare, manufactured to be moody and haunting, but lacking in personal identity. It is used in such a way though that it directly affects the pacing and rhythm in and between scenes, giving the film firm guidance and a stronger flow. It's quite rare to see this in a commercial film, but it is definitely welcomed and appreciated.
The acting too is on point. Samara Weaving is quickly establishing herself as a prime choice in the horror/comedy niche and her performance as a kick-ass bride with vengeance on her mind is one for the history books. The rest of the cast is good too, with each and every character finding a fair balance between their comical and menacing character traits. Luckily the cast is small, which makes it a little easier to uphold the balance, but props to Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett for keeping everyone in line.
The first part of the film is spent setting up the trap for Grace. My advice is to skip the trailer as it plays like a full-blown summary of the entire first half of the film, leaving very little to the imagination. It's a shame because the build-up is actually quite entertaining and effective. From there on out it travels along familiar paths, but as I mentioned before, this is not a film that aims for originality or creativity. The second half works up to a worthwhile and appropriate finale, using every ounce of potential available to mine laughs and tension in equal measures.
My expectations going in were relatively low, as commercial horror hasn't yielded many great films these past couple of years. That doesn't take away anything from this film's accomplishments though. Ready or Not is a dark and atmospheric horror/comedy with some solid kills, a superb setting, sumptuous visuals, a very likable main character and plenty of sly and sneaky grins. It's not high art nor the next big thing in horror, neither does it pretend to be. It's just an extremely fun and well-made horror flick, executed to perfection.