Ready or Not: You’re Next of Kin, by David Bax
Look, I’m not going to be giving away any major spoilers in this review. But, having said that, if the only reason you’re here is to find out whether you should go see Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet’s Ready or Not, then let me tell you now that you absolutely should. It’s great, it’s fun and you may just benefit from knowing less about it beforehand. I know I did.
Okay, for those of you who are still with us, here’s the basic plot. Grace (Samara Weaving) is getting married to Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), one of the heirs to the obscenely large Le Domas gaming fortune. The wedding is at the family’s gorgeous and massive estate; Grace, an orphan, has no family members of her own in attendance. The night of the wedding, Grace learns she is expected to participate in a Le Domas tradition. She must play a game, chosen at random, with her new extended family at midnight. But the game she is assigned will end up forcing her to fight for her life and survive until dawn.
Comparisons to Adam Wingard’s cult favorite You’re Next are hard to avoid. Both movies feature a young woman, new to her significant other’s family, trying her best not to get killed in a fancy house. Both have a quick-witted, darkly comic tone. And both are devilishly plotted, with ever-heightening narrative mechanics. Here, that irresistible pull of “What’s next?” not only fits with the game motif, it also guarantees rewatchability. Ready or Not turns you into a lab rat who will keep coming back for the endless hits of pleasure.
Where Ready or Not differs from You’re Next is in being overtly occult. Where Wingard’s villains were eventually revealed to have base and pathetically human motivations, Alex’s family (including Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell as the parent and Adam Brody as the fuck-up brother) serve what they feel is a higher purpose. It turns out their repeated use the phrase “one of us” has to do with more than just Grace changing her last name.
Yet most of the horror elements here are more empirical than supernatural. This is more the watch-through-your-fingers squirmy (and ingeniously gory) kind of horror than the spill-your-popcorn jumpy kind or the sleep-with-the-lights-on spooky variety. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett have an impeccable technical command that ratchets up suspense in muscle-tensing ways. Still, they know the value of a horror film feeling tactile and handmade; the opening dolly shot of the games that made the Le Domas name famous were obviously done with a traditional dolly–without motion control–leaving the occasionally bumpy evidence of a human operator intact.
This apparent reverence for the old school may in fact be tongue in cheek. Ready or Not‘s allegory engine runs on a deep distrust of tradition and status quo. For all its slick, goofy, bloody fun, the film is following in the footsteps of Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Ready or Not is another bitterly funny look at people who have inherited generations of power and privilege and the lengths to which they’ll go to hold onto those things. And, just like Peele, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett know that by making a lively, scary and above all good horror movie first, their message will be transmitted with more force.