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Here comes ‘Ready or Not’

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Blending genres effectively is one of the more difficult things a filmmaker can try to do. Putting disparate elements together in a manner that is balanced and effective isn’t easy, which is why so many efforts to do so wind up falling flat.

Horror-comedy is one of the worst offenders; for every “Evil Dead” or “Cabin in the Woods,” there are a half-dozen failed experiments littering late-night cable and the lower tiers of streaming algorithms. The real successes are few and far between.

But here’s the thing - “Ready or Not” is one of them.

Directed by the team of Matt Bettinelli-Opin and Tyler Gillett from a screenplay by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy, this story of one woman’s efforts to survive the night after discovering that her new husband’s family has a dark and sinister secret – one that requires that she be dead by dawn.

It’s a sharp and subversive spin on the age-old “final girl” standard, one that embraces the tradition of the trope while simultaneously recognizing its inherent ridiculousness. It mixes over-the-top violence with self-awareness, never once losing sight of the basic absurdity underlying most horror narratives. It is bloody and funny and bloody funny.

Grace (Samara Weaving, TV’s “SMILF”) is preparing to marry the love of her life. The wedding is taking place at the massive Le Domas estate; Grace’s groom-to-be Alex (Mark O’Brien, “Bad Times at the El Royale”) is a prodigal son, returned home at the behest of his family.

And what a family. The Le Domas clan is wildly wealthy, sitting at the head of a global gaming empire. There’s patriarch Tony (Henry Czerny, TV’s “Sharp Objects”) and his wife Becky (Andie MacDowell, “Paper Year”), along with Alex’s alcoholic brother Daniel (Adam Brody, TV’s “StartUp”) and type-A sister Charity (Elyse Levesque, TV’s “Orphan Black”), plus their respective spouses.

Games are in their blood – and so there exists a family tradition, one which must be adhered without fail. According to familial legends regarding the shadowy origins of their fortune, those who marry into the family must draw a card from a strange wooden box. On the card will be the name of a game – and the game MUST be played.

Grace draws Hide and Seek. And so, she is sent off to find a place to hide in this massive maze of a house, a task she undertakes with glee despite Alex’s odd reaction to the news.

It turns out that in this tradition, Hide and Seek is much more than a simple game. Instead, the entire Le Domas family arms itself with traditional weaponry – muskets and crossbows and at least one impressively large axe – and sets out to hunt down Grace. Their ultimate goal? To kill her by dawn so as to fulfill the family’s end of a supernatural bargain.

Only it doesn’t quite go according to plan.

Grace finds herself all alone deep in enemy territory. The entire house is on lockdown – there’s no way for her to get out. And so, presented with no other choice – she fights back.

What follows is a joyfully bloody deconstruction of horror movie tropes. There’s a black humor throughout that pointedly satirizes things like classism and desensitization to violence. The film isn’t afraid to get really visceral, but it also delights in tipping the occasional wink to the audience; there are definitely moments that are insightfully, almost indulgently meta.

And it really works.

“Ready or Not” is really smart with the choices that it makes. While there’s a lot of creepy stuff around the edges, bits and pieces of sinister lore that offer fun details, the fundamental story is simple: Survive until the sun comes up. That conceptual simplicity leaves lots of room for the filmmakers to have some fun with regards to audience expectations and the rules of the world we’re inhabiting. Right up until the end, we’re not sure where we’re being taken – and that’s part of the fun.

All that said, it’s a movie that relies heavily on its cast to carry the load. Making something like this work requires big efforts from the ensemble. Luckily, they’ve got Samara Weaving leading the way, who is absolutely exceptional in this movie. She’s charismatic and engaging, with a wonderful screen presence. Oh, and she’s got one hell of a scream on her too. It’s a star-making performance.

There’s no slack in the back, though. Brody finds a low-energy counterpoint to the rest of the family’s mania that is an ideal fit. MacDowell appears to be having the time of her life, while Czerny paints a hilarious portrait of a failson in charge. O’Brien is just the right bland shade of milquetoast. Levesque finds the proper domineering ice queen tone. Melanie Scrofano and Kristian Bruun are note-perfect as the bumbling spouses of the Le Domas children. And Nicky Guadagni is so intense she practically glows as Aunt Helene.

Put it all together and you get a wonderful late-summer surprise. You never know what you’re going to get, but in “Ready or Not,” you get a brutal and darkly funny twist on horror movie tropes. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe … and you’ll probably do both at the same time.

All in all, you’d do well to seek this one out.

[4 out of 5]

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