A Lockdown Watch: Ready or Not

(Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Rich people get up to all sorts don’t they?

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Ready or Not was much anticipated ahead of its 2019 release, so as we approach a summer of lockdown I gave it a go. Despite some great ideas and intriguing characters, I can’t help but feel it was a fantastic premise that could have been so much more.

Spoilers ahead for Ready or Not…

Horror comedy is one of the hardest blended genres to nail. Too funny and all of the suspense is sucked out, too scary and you’re hiding behind your sofa missing all the best gags. If I had to point out a stellar example for the perfect balance of “haha!” and “AAAHHH!” it would have to be 2004’s Shaun of the Dead. Starring a largely comedic cast and on a shoe string budget, Edgar Wright manages to have you wetting your pants with laughter one moment, and wetting them in fear the next; whilst the purity of either medium is never spoiled. That’s the ideal of this genre; real fear, and real laughter, with little sacrifice of either.

Does Ready or Not manage this with the same precision and tact? In a word, no – in more words, I’ll explain.

First, the premise

For anyone who has seen a trailer or even poster for this film, the premise is pretty straightforward. Pretty young lady (Samara Weaving) falls for rich young man (Mark O’Brien) and it’s the big wedding day at the family home, complete with the usual swarm of dysfunctional rich family members. Egotistical father, check. Crazy aunt, check. Drug addled sister, check. Leeching sibling in laws. check. Seemingly good hearted mother and brother who are very welcoming and kind? Check. All good thus far, but of course this is not just your run-of-the-mill family with rich people issues, right? This one also has a secret… Spooky.

So at midnight, our groom (Alex) reveals to his beloved bride (Grace) a little family tradition. On their wedding night, she must meet his entire family in the parlour and play a game selected by a random card box; only then will she truly become part of the family. What he doesn’t tell her? If she draws the card “Hide and Seek”, there is a twist: if she gets found, the family will hunt her down and killer her.

Frustratingly for me, it was right about there that I worked out the major twist of the movie.

A fundamental flaw

Needless to say, if you haven’t seen the movie but want to, turn away now, because everything after here is a creaky old haunted house of spoilers.

From the get go there was one thing that bothered me about the character introductions; I couldn’t work out what was going on with Alex. Even though I didn’t know the full ins and outs of the plot at the start of the film, I had seen a trailer and knew the basic concept. So why would he take Grace home if he knew what lay ahead?

Now the film makes clear he was hoping it would be any other card and the problem wouldn’t arise at all… but that just doesn’t fly with me. It’s not the kind of haphazard chance one would take with the love of their life, especially because if you don’t really buy into the whole ritualistic mumbo jumbo then you could just not have gone in the first place. We find out later that the kindly brother Daniel (Adam Brody) told his less than pleasant wife (Elyse Levesque) what would happen before they got married, and she went ahead regardless. That was actually a very interesting concept that never got explored further; maybe only the bad apples get in, because that is what it takes to be a part of the sadistic Le Domas family.

But Grace isn’t a bad apple, she is a good person. And despite Alex’s initial shock, and efforts to help her early in the hunt; he brought her here knowing this was a possibility. So at a fundemental level, he clearly buys into the whole concept of the ritual sacrifice and that this has to happen.

Regardless of what happens after this point; Alex is intrinsically a villain.

I was hoping this wouldn’t be the case, but after being foreshadowed more than once by characters telling both Alex and the audience he is “destined to lead” and “part of the family,” it only became more inevitable that he would turn on Grace. I mean how else could this have worked? Yeah we escaped my evil murdering family, that I brought you to… Thought of any kids names?

The plot is fine, if you don’t go looking

Around the same point, another thing started to bug me. If I thought about it for half a minute, it really wasn’t clear how any of this worked. Ok, so you draw a card, one card means a hunt to the death, any other is just a game; chess, draughts, Skyrim; any ancient game. So how does the family know Hide and Seek is a hunt to the death? Why does the hider have to die? An arbitrary deadline of sunrise is placed, but why? For any other game playing is just enough, but for this one game, the rules seem to be very different and very badly defined. For example, we find out this is all in aid of human sacrifice; but before the end of the film, at least five people die. Why do none of them count?

Convoluted plot mechanics are one thing, however simple but poorly defined ones can become a frustration. The film is self aware of this, with various bemused family members questioning what they can and can’t do, and why they are forced to use archaic equipment. It’s funny to a point, but by the end of the film the family are going back and forth, questioning what is going on so much that any tension is sucked out, and the humour just doesn’t hit.

All the while, these fairly undeveloped and not apparently evil characters seem pretty chill with murdering someone they were giving welcome speeches to about half an hour earlier. Later it’s revealed that the opening scene was the last hunt, some 30 years ago; but only two family members were actually old enough to be part of that. So why are the younger generation so relaxed about committing murder? Do they do this kind of thing all the time? Are there other traditions? There are one or two hints, but nothing is terribly clear. In the end all we get is a bunch of bumbling, incompetent rich folks who apparently are devil-worshipping murderers, but end up being neither scary enough to threaten, nor funny enough to amuse.

Finally, we are told they are rich, but aside from the fancy house and some canapes we never really see the entitlement that the film would like to tell you is unavoidable. “F***ing rich people!” Grace screams at the heavens, as a sports car and possible means of escape zooms past her. A fun visual, but outside of a cheap societal gag its about the same level as the rest of the film’s social commentary. If you want to see a truly brilliant portrayal of the snobbish upper classes, I implore anyone to watch Knives Out, probably our stand-out film of 2019.

Not nailing the ending

The climax is at best, interesting and at worst, a complete mess. I like a good twist as much as the next guy, but the last 15 minutes contain more of these than the rest of the movie combined, and whilst it is frantic, you see the swerves coming a mile off. The conflict of Daniel’s character was an appreciated addition, and throughout it does add a bit of nuance where there is little else to find; but his final actions are too little too late. Cut to Alex: after seeing brother dying, and then finding his new wife standing over the remains of his mother’s head, you get the impression this was not the wedding night he had in mind. It’s meant to be an emotional moment, but I refer to my earlier comment; he had to be a bad guy – otherwise what the hell is he doing here in the first place?

And then, something happened. A movie which for 97% of its run time was categorically a slasher, suddently turned hard left into a supernatural film. It was fun to find out that great-great grandaddy’s deal with the devil was real, but between the over the top deaths and Alex’s bizzarre last minute plea, the tone was a little off.

I was really hoping for something clever when the sun came up – maybe Grace was the devil all along and it was a test for the family. Perhaps a lack of any supernatural element, but as the police come to take the Le Domas family away, the house burns down anyway, making it a prophecy fulfilled. It felt a bit like the writers had written themselves into a hole, with too many of the family surviving to the end of the film, and needing a swift resolution. It may have made for a more compelling story if the family continued their early, accidental murdering of the help and each other, and have it become clear that forces unknown would keep knocking them off until Grace was sacrificed. As it was, they exploded at sunrise. Okay then.

Getting colder…

All in all, Ready or Not suffers with a bit of an identity problem. Bad guys that aren’t that bad, good guys that aren’t wholly that good. There are some tense scenes, but rarely do they pay off with anything more than the obvious. It is also dissapointing that at no point during the film was I genuinely scared for a character. Granted, one really out of place body horror scene involving a hand wound and a nail made me recoil in the wrong kind of horror, but it wasn’t particularly frightening. The jokes never quite hit, and characters like the mad aunt or junkie sister were never quite reckless or ridiculous enough to inspire fear or humour.

If there was a clear scale, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s collaboration is much closer to 85% comedy, 10% horror and a bit of thriller sprinkled on. This isn’t an inherently bad combination and does not necessarily result in a terrible film if it is done right. But by not getting that “balance” and a few other factors, we can’t help but feel there is a great film in here that lacked a proper execution, and ended up being a bit of this and a bit of that, but not a lot of anything.

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