Traditionally, weddings usually lead to some fun and games in the bedroom for the happy and exhausted couple. In the new horror-thriller “Ready or Not,” that’s definitely true — but the games aren’t always fun.
Samara Weaving has a breakout performance as a new bride who tries to stay alive until dawn after her wedding day as her in-laws hunt her down and try to kill her. (Talk about an awkward brunch the next morning.) It’s a well-plotted film that excellently mixes gore and humour while also offering some social commentary by torching the clueless rich.
Weaving plays Grace, a foster kid who yearns for family, who marries Alex Le Domas, the scion of a wealthy family that built its fortune on games. Whenever a new member tries to join the clan, they have a “weird family ritual” — they play a game. Sometimes it’s checkers or Old Maid. Sometimes its hunt-down-the-newcomer.
This last possibility is not exactly well communicated by her betrothed, surely a candidate for Worst Groom Ever, played by Mark O’Brien. “It’s not too late to flee, you know,” he tells her. She replies, but without knowing the full consequences: “No, thank you. I’m all the way in.” Grace then, unfortunately, picks the most dangerous game of all.
But this time, the Le Domas family has found a worthy challenger. Grace will not go quietly, ripping her wedding dress so she can be more mobile — a nod to Uma Thurman’s angry bride in “Kill Bill” — ditching her heels for a pair of Converse high tops and fighting back. “This doesn’t end well for you,” she is warned.
“Ready or Not ” has a script by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy, who seem to have played many games of Clue, and is directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, as well as executive produced by Chad Villella, the latter trio collectively known as Radio Silence.
The filmmakers have a fun time chasing the bride and an ever-exasperated family — which includes a deliciously nasty Andie MacDowell as well as Kristian Bruun, Melanie Scrofano, Henry Czerny, Nicky Guadagni, Adam Brody and Elyse Levesque — but they also have time for some digs at the hypocritical ultra-wealthy.
The poor Le Domas servants are the first to meet their demise, mowed down by accident by the drug- or drink-addled aristocrats. “Why does this always happen to me?” one rich in-law wails after her crossbow shoots an arrow into a maid’s skull.
A portrait emerges of a family desperate to hold onto its exclusivity and privilege, even to the point of murder. “It’s true what they say. The rich really are different,” one of them explains. They may wear dinner jackets for dinner but they’re truly savage.
Why is this family named Le Domas? Is it a subtle dig at The Defence of Marriage Act or DOMA? Is it perhaps an anagram for “Lame Dos”? Maybe it’s a knock on European-loving Yanks? Could it be a crude schoolyard taunt? Who knows? We’re never told. It remains an insider joke.
What gets wonderfully communicated is Grace’s will and power. Weaving, the niece of Hugo Weaving (“Lord of the Rings,” ”The Matrix”), has a comfort with horror — she’s been in the series “Ash vs Evil Dead” and “The Babysitter” — but absolutely shines in this tricky role. She’s vulnerable, deadpan funny, scared and resolute, turning a role that could have been one-dimensional into something vibrant and authentic.
Toward the end, she seems to draw on such wells of anger and fury that she makes haunting animal noises. If this actress — probably best known for a memorable turn in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” — often gets confused with Margot Robbie, a few more roles like this and that may end. She’s murderously good.
“Ready or Not,” a Fox Searchlight Pictures release, is rated R for “violence, bloody images, language throughout, and some drug use.” Running time: 95 minutes. Three stars out of four.
MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press