Ready or Not

Ready or Not is quite possibly the sickest, most twisted movie of the year. I loved every second of it. There's a key to doing this sort of thing right. Anyone can be sick and twisted gratuitously. Having a reason to be sick and twisted and then fulfilling that reason is much trickier. Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy (who wrote the script) and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (who directed) have concocted a tight story, so all the bloody, gory, messed-up stuff feels totally justified and undeniably satisfying.

Samara Weaving (Mayhem) plays Grace, a bride happy to have just married her true love, Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien). Alex comes from a super-wealthy family who made their fortune through manufacturing board games. They have a long-standing tradition that whenever someone new joins the clan, that person has to play a game, which is chosen at random by an old puzzle box. Alex tries to convince Grace not to go along with this. She wants to ingratiate herself, though, so she cheerfully agrees.

The game ends up being Hide & Seek, although with a twist. The Le Domas family believes that, if the box chooses this game, the new person must be sacrificed, lest some horrible fate befall them. Grace therefore spends an entire night running loose in their mansion as patriarch Tony (Henry Czerny), matriarch Becky (Andie MacDowell), other son Daniel (Adam Brody), and several additional relatives hunt her down, weapons in hand.

Basing a 95-minute movie around that premise may seem unpromising. Ready or Not makes it work by continually expanding on it. This isn't just an hour-and-a-half of violent shenanigans, although there are plenty of those. The film gradually adds new elements that give the premise greater definition. Grace, for example, has to re-evaluate her marriage, based on the fact that her new husband's family is maniacal. We also learn a lot more about the Le Domas clan, why they have this bizarre tradition, and what they are so afraid of. Starting simple and then tossing in complexities keeps the concept fresh throughout.

Sublime performances are another vital factor. Samara Weaving is flat-out awesome as Grace. Over the course of the running time, she shows how the character goes from happiness to terror to defiant determination. Every bit of it feels credible, thanks to her sterling, star-making work. The supporting actors, without exception, elevate their characters beyond what is written. They invest the Le Domas family members with distinct personalities, so that watching how these weirdos react to situations is endlessly entertaining. Henry Czerny, in particular, is fantastic as the father who seems normal on the outside but is barely holding it together inside.

Ready or Not is as much a dark comedy as a horror flick. At times, the movie is hilarious. Certain lines of dialogue have a sting to them, and the violence is occasionally exaggerated to the level where you giggle and squirm simultaneously. (One scene, involving an OnStar-like automobile help device, is genius in how it humorously throws Grace out of the frying pan and into the fire.) All of this takes place amidst masterful production design. The mansion, with its dumbwaiter and behind-the-walls servants' hallways, is an inspired setting, especially since it's been disconcertingly scrubbed of modernity. Rarely does a location seem so ominous.

Ready or Not is a thrill ride, but it's hard to ignore the theme of “bride's remorse.” Grace's special day turns into a nightmare as she faces the fact that her new husband comes with disturbing baggage. Their marriage is screwed before it even really starts. What's a bride to do? You'll have to see for yourself, and you should if you dig sick and twisted stuff, because rarely does a film deliver those qualities in such an enjoyable manner.

out of four

Ready or Not is rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughout, and some drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.