An unsuspecting bride finds herself fighting for her life on her wedding night in Ready or Not, a wickedly funny, blood-soaked thriller that made its world premiere last month at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Toronto. I was on board in principle the moment the first trailer dropped in June, but good trailers don’t always indicate a good film. Fortunately, Ready or Not lives up to its trailer.
(Some spoilers below.)
Grace (Samara Weaving, Picnic at Hanging Rock) can’t believe her good fortune when she falls in love with Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien, Halt and Catch Fire), a member of a wealthy gaming dynasty—although the family prefers the term “dominion.” After a picture-perfect wedding on the family estate, Alex informs Grace that there’s just one more formality to be observed: “At midnight, you have to play a game. It’s just something we do when someone joins the family.” The new family member must draw a card from a mysterious box to learn which game they will be playing.
Grace, alas, draws Hide and Seek, the worst possible card. That’s because, as played by the Le Domas family, it has less in common with an innocent children’s pastime and more with the classic 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game.” Grace is the prey, and she must elude detection until dawn to avoid being killed in a bizarre ritual sacrifice.
“They think they have to kill you before sunrise or something very bad will happen to the family,” Alex apologetically explains. It has something to do with a mysterious figure named Mister Le Bail, who struck a deal with the Le Domas family forebear several generations ago. He would grant the family great wealth in exchange for the occasional blood sacrifice. Goats usually suffice, but the Hide and Seek card requires a human sacrifice. It’s probably nonsense, of course, but the Le Domas family isn’t taking any chances.
Unfortunately for them, Grace turns out to be a formidable adversary despite being “just a blonde twig,” as her new father-in-law Tony (Henry Czerny, Sharp Objects, Quantico) calls her. It helps that her new in-laws are shockingly incompetent with the antique weaponry that family tradition dictates they use. Also, a cocaine-addled Emilie Le Domas (Melanie Scrofano, Wynonna Earp) keeps slaughtering maids by mistake. (“Does she look like she’s wearing a giant wedding dress?”)
Grace does seem to have Alex on her side: he still remembers the childhood trauma of watching family matriarch Helene Dumas (Nicky Guadagni, Lars and the Real Girl) tearfully protest as her new groom, the love of her life, was dragged off to the sacrificial altar. Alex’s perpetually tipsy older brother, Daniel (Adam Brody, Jennifer’s Body, Shazam!), is also sympathetic to Grace’s plight but lacks the resolve to intervene. His own wife, Charity (Elyse Levesque, Stargate Universe), has no such compunctions, joining in the hunt with sadistic glee. And while Grace’s new mother-in-law Becky (Andie MacDowell, Groundhog Day, Four Weddings and a Funeral) quite likes her son’s new wife, she will always put the family tradition first.
Ready or Not gets the tone just right throughout, perfectly balanced between humor and horror. Moments like Emilie’s husband, Fitch Bradley (Kristian Bruun, Orphan Black), watching YouTube videos on “Getting To Know Your Crossbow,” provide a bit of comic relief and make those genuinely shocking bloody twists all the more effective. The pacing is crisp, the narrative is tight, it’s genuinely suspenseful, and the entire cast is clearly having a blast in their respective roles.
Relative newcomer Samara Weaving in particular delivers a standout performance as Grace—a role that requires her to be, in turn, sweetly submissive, shocked and terrified, and a tough-as-nails badass in a fight for her life. Her wedding dress mirrors her character’s inner journey, starting out pristine and gradually getting more ripped and stained with blood and gore as her hellish wedding night progresses. Per the featurette embedded below, the production team designed 17 different versions of that dress for Weaving, including one incarnation with “so much goat carcass, you can’t even fathom.”
Late August is usually a pretty sluggish landscape when it comes to cinematic offerings, with most major studios holding big releases for the fall. Ready or Not brings a welcome bit of sharp-edged sparkle to these dog days of summer.