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Shuffling into a cursed late summer slot, ambitious comedy horror Ready or Not sets itself up as an exception to the rule, a genre offering that might offer something more than tired jump scares and gristle. It boasts a delicious premise, a tongue-in-cheek marketing campaign and aesthetically it’s one of the rare studio horror films of late that has a distinctive style. But it’s this heady initial promise that makes the ensuing mess such a crushing disappointment, an opulent feast that’s rotten on the inside.
The setup sees Grace (Samara Weaving) preparing to marry Alex (Mark O’Brien) and become part of his extravagant family, whose money has been made from selling a series of board games. Grace’s background is far less privileged and on the day of the wedding, she faces a tough uphill struggle to be seen as something more than a gold-digger. But once the nuptials are over, Grace faces something far more difficult. In an age-old family tradition, she must play a randomly picked game: hide and seek. While she initially views it as a lark, she soon finds out that the rules dictate that when she is found, she dies.
There’s a certain level of bravery one must commend with the creation of a new comedy horror, a genre hybrid that’s close to impossible to perfect. It’s far easier to list those that have failed than it is to remember those that haven’t, especially within the last decade, film-makers mostly unable to handle the tonal shift required to make the combination fly. In Ready or Not, writers Guy Busick and R Christopher Murphy can’t quite turn their initial pitch into the film they clearly want to be making. From the outset, there’s a sharpness missing from the dialogue, withering one-liners failing to cut deep, barely scratching the surface instead. Quite often during the film, wit is replaced with vulgarity and scenes will crescendo with cursing rather than anything smarter. It’s hugely overplayed, the sight of wealthy, well-dressed characters swearing with such frequency that what the writers might think is audacious or shocking quickly becomes dull.
The scene is set for a scathing takedown of the bourgeoisie but other than a few on-the-nose scraps of dialogue (“It’s true what they say, the rich really are different!”), there’s no real attempt to make the most of the enticing setup. Too often, cartoonish broadness is prioritised above all else and any space for biting satire is filled with misfiring silliness. As a character, Grace isn’t allowed much nuance or substance and, in what might seem rather fitting given the plot, she feels more like a chess piece moved through a series of repetitive scenarios. It’s clear that directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are eager to mess up that dress, arm her with a gun and paint her as a poster-ready, Ripley-esque final girl, but they push her from fear to resistance too soon and Weaving, despite being one heck of a good screamer, doesn’t do enough to get us onboard. So much of the film relies on us investing in her journey but as easy as it might seem for us to cheer on the working-class girl taking on the 1%, it’s not the satisfying and cathartic battle it could have been. The evil family, including Adam Brody, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell and an embarrassingly misjudged Nicky Guadagni, aren’t as nasty or bitchily compelling as they could have been while last act attempts at humanity also fall rather flat.
As a comedy, it’s simply not funny, and as a horror, it works better in pieces but not with the consistency a film set over one night would require. The Cluedo-esque house is a fantastic setting for the genre and there’s one particularly effective scene on a ladder but as the film speeds toward the finale, the plot gets dragged down with overwritten, convoluted explanations and an explosion of gore isn’t enough to distract us from the emptiness at the centre. There’s a slight smugness to the film, as if it’s been made to be an automatic fan favourite before it has even been unleashed on fans, assembling familiar cultish elements but without stitching them together with much panache. In a year filled with underwhelming horror films, it’s ultimately more of the same, a game where the biggest loser is the audience.
Source: The Guardian
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