Midsummer may be past, but the time for ritual sacrifice is never over, as seen in the new film “Ready or not.” This pastiche of thriller, comedy, woman-in-peril, and gore is a fun popcorn movie, despite its unevenness of tone and overlong story.
The film begins with two young boys racing through the corridors of a mansion. One hides the other in a cabinet. A man races into the room with arrows protruding from his chest. He begs to not be revealed to his pursuers, but the boy turns him in. The hapless man is dragged off by mask-wearing people while the boy receives praise from his mother.
Flash forward 30 years to the present. Grace (Samara Weaving) is engaged to the youngest son, Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), portrayed in the opening sequence. Although Alex has been estranged from his family, he has returned per their request to have his wedding at the familial estate. Grace is nervous about fitting in with the wealthy Le Domas.
The ceremony goes off without a hitch. Later that night Alex informs Grace, after a creepy Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni) spies on them from the servants’ entrance to their room, that Grace must participate in a family tradition. The Le Domas clan are famous for their board games, although they have expanded their financial empire into other realms. So at midnight Grace must play a game.
After an overelaborate setup, Grace takes a box and pulls out a card. Grace selects a card marked “Hide and Seek.” She is instructed to go hide until someone finds her.
As Grace enters a dumbwaiter, the rest of the family gears up. Although some of the exposition occurs later, the sum and substance of the affair is that the family long ago made a pact with the devil to achieve success. Every so often the devil requires a human sacrifice that must be performed in a ritual before dawn. Otherwise the family dies. To make it sporting, they have to find Grace under the trappings of a game.
The family stocks up on weaponry, some ancient and some more modern. At first Grace is blissfully unaware that anything is amiss. Then she meets Alex, who has escaped observation to meet her, who then tells her the truth about what is going on. Worse, they are hiding in a bedroom when a person is accidentally shot and killed inches away from the couple.
From here, the plot is fairly straightforward. Grace tries to escape with the help of Alex as she is pursued by the various relatives and servant.
The movie is a commentary on what it means to be idly wealthy and to be so privileged that any activity is countenanced in the name of staying rich. The desperation with which the family strives to fulfill their obligation to the devil is telling. The fact that this clan literally has made a deal with the devil to become rich demonstrates how undeserving they are of their good fortune.
One highlight of the film is that the various members of the Le Domas family often are ludicrously inept at using their weapons. This results in various funny scenes of accidental death. Their quirkiness also makes for some delightful conversation, although sometimes it descends into redundant bickering.
This lightheartedness is offset by the very real dangers which Grace faces. The movie is heavy on gore. At times it seemed gratuitous, as when Grace brings her hand down on a protruding nail and when she suffers a long abdominal cut getting through a gate. But there is a demonstration of gore and visual effects at the end that is worth the wait.
I was a little disappointed by the production values. A mansion provides a wonderful opportunity for all sorts of set pieces. But the cinematography is so dark that you just see an endless expanse of stock wooden corridors without much else. Even the rooms seem to be decorated either with kitsch or with low-budget items.
The acting is uneven. Some actors seem stuck in perpetual comedic tone while others are unwaveringly stern in an almost-satiric way. There just is not enough material to help develop this cast of characters, who remain mostly archetypes.
Even an actress like Andie McDowell, who plays the matriarch of the Le Domas clan, seems befuddled in her performance. Adam Brody, as Alex’s louche brother Daniel, also cannot quite seem to get his bearings as he vacillates between being deadpan funny or helpful and reflective.
Ultimately, everything becomes subservient to the central chase plot. While this can be enjoyable when action is happening, the film sometimes is interrupted by tedious expository scenes where the family members discuss the rightness or wrongness of what they are doing.
The movie also is just too long. Even with the occasionally comedic antics of the Le Domas ensemble, Grace always is just getting away at the last moment. After a while, it just becomes tiresome as you wait for some kind of finale. Another flaw is the fact that the revelation of the family secret is drawn out. Some aspects of the arrangement with the devil remain murky.
Yet despite all of these criticisms, I must say that the action sequences were engaging. I did enjoy some of the comedy and visual effects as well.
The creators of “Ready or not” could have used some more time reflecting on what kind of film they wanted to make. A tauter script and better production values would have helped. The picture most reminded me of “Happy Death Day” in what it was trying to achieve in its tone, but did not make the mark of that excellent movie.
Three out of five stars
Grace couldn’t be happier after she marries the man of her dreams at his family’s luxurious estate. There’s just one catch — she must now hide from midnight until dawn while her new in-laws hunt her with guns, crossbows and other weapons.
Starring: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’ Brien, with Henry Czerny, and Andie MacDowell
Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Screenplay: Guy Busick, Ryan Murphy
Ready or Not
The movie is a commentary on what it means to be idly wealthy and to be so privileged that any activity is countenanced in the name of staying rich. The desperation with which the family strives to fulfill their obligation to the devil is telling.
Yet despite all of the criticisms, I must say that the action sequences were engaging. I did enjoy some of the comedy and visual effects as well.
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