Ready or Not and all the images you see in this review are owned by Fox Searchlight and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
Has it been a bad year for horror films? There have certainly been quite a few misses like the Child’s Play remake, Ma, and whatever the heck Brightburn was supposed to be, but we also had fun stuff like The Intruder and even a genuinely great horror film like Us, so the year isn’t a TOTAL miss as far for these kinds of films. Still, we could always use a few more quality flicks here and there since it’s becoming one of the few reliably bankable genres now that Disney Remake has become its own ginormous slice of the pie and pretty much everything else is heading towards the streaming model to stay afloat. Wait a minute… this is a Fox Searchlight movie which means it’s STILL DISNEY! HORROR SHOCK!! Anyway! Does this grotesque spin on the children’s game of Hide and Seek end up being a new classic for the genre, or will we regret ever looking for it in the first place? Let’s find out!!
Grace (Samara Weaving), who I can only assume plays a professional Margot Robbie impersonator in this movie, is getting married to Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien) who is an heir to the VAST Le Domas fortune which was made through board games and other such ventures. The family seems pleasant enough despite being a collection of old money weirdos, but things take an… interesting turn when on their wedding night at the gigantic Le Domas estate, the family requests that Grace take part in a tradition of their where the newest member of the family has to play a game at the stroke of midnight. The head of the family Tony (Henry Czerny) explains that this MYSTERIOUS box given to his great grandfather by their original benefactor will spit out a card with a game printed on it, and they will play that game which will officially bring her into the family. Will it be chess? Parcheesi? Do the Urkel? No, the game turns out to be Hide and Seek which seems a bit childish, but Grace is up for it if it means getting along with her new family who mysteriously went quiet just now. Anyway, she runs and hides, gets bored and starts wandering the halls, and then Alex brings her into a room to explain that the rest of those mo-fos are going to kill her if they find her because of reasons that… well he doesn’t quite explain there and I’m not about to spoil it here. The point is that she’s got to find a way to avoid detection and even fight back if the need arises while Alex tries to find a way for them to escape, and as the night goes on the family starts to get more and more desperate as there seems to be quite a bit at stake here. Can Grace manage to escape this house with her internal organs, as well as her marriage, intact? What is the family hiding that could possibly explain why a game of hide and seek has turned into the home version of The Most Dangerous Game? Is it just me, or do these rich jerks seem WOEFULLY unprepared for this?
It’s good! Great even! I don’t think there’s a better horror movie like it this year, especially since we didn’t get another Purge sequel, and it’s the kind of movie I bet Blumhouse is kicking themselves about not making! It’s got a great look to it, there’s plenty of tension throughout, and there’s real effort to make this funny and humanizing despite its ludicrous premise. I don’t quite love it as there are a few issues here and there that persist through most of its run time, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if everyone who would like this kind of movie ended up LOVING it and aren’t bothered by what ended up being rather minor sticking points for me. Then again, what else am I going to point to this year as far as gory action thriller nonsense? Escape Room? Heck that had like FIVE different games of death in it, and NONE of them are as memorable as good ol’ Hide and Seek!
If you didn’t know already, this is a film made by Radio Silence who are a trio of filmmakers (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, and Chad Villella with him serving as an Executive Producer) who were part of that boom period in the early 2010s for horror filmmakers which is rather fitting because this film reminds me a lot of one of one particular film from that time; You’re Next. The general premise, the big house, and even some of the plot turns are almost exactly the same as in that film, but I wasn’t the BIGGEST fan of it and saw places that it could definitely improve upon which I think this film does and getting a better version of a film I only somewhat like isn’t a bad thing in my book; just look at Searching from last year which came out right after Unfriended: Dark Web. So what exactly makes this better? Well it’s got a much broader and colorful aesthetic where everything seems just a bit goofier than you’d expect it to be in such a dire situation. The weapons that everyone is carrying are intentionally anachronistic, the haircuts are quite silly on a few characters, and the house basically looks like a dank dungeon at night without going so far as to make it unbelievable that someone would live there. It’s kind of a cliché at this point to describe something as LOOKING LIKE A COMIC BOOK, but I think the description is apt here with just how much the movie’s strengths are in its style and attitude.
What really sets this movie apart (and feels somewhat like an extension of what they did in their short 10/31/98) as the characters and their dialogue feel much more natural and therefore ripe for comedy. Now writing horror movies has improved in recent years to be sure, but there’s a certain awkward humanity to their dialogue, behaviors, fears, and wanton desires which is what drives the narrative and is the basis for the film’s humor. It reminds me a bit of It’s Always Sunny or even Tim & Eric where the mundanity of the characters are juxtaposed by the evil they are committing and also how decidedly uncool they are under pressure; all of which makes the situations much more ridiculous to watch unfold. The performances are what really sells it as everyone is clearly aware of the tonal balancing act that the movie relies on, and while it doesn’t ALWAYS succeed at maintaining it which we’ll get to soon enough, they do an admiral job of keeping everything on track. Adam Brody as the alcoholic “Bad Son” is perhaps the standout here with a surprisingly nuanced performance throughout, and I really liked the father played by Henry Czerny who has some of the funniest lines throughout. He’s the one who’s unraveling the most throughout and does a great job of mirroring the desperation that everyone else is experiencing and the increased tension that goes along with it. Sadly I think that Samara Weaving gets a bit of the short shrift here as her role is almost exclusively reactionary and we barely know anything about her before as the movie goes along; just that she’s REALLY good at surviving in absurd situations. Similarly there are a few family members who aren’t really on hand for rich characterization but are just there for a few cheap laughs. Not BAD laughs mind you, but not especially inspired when the rest of the movie puts in that little extra bit of effort in the humor.
The only real problem I had with the movie is something I JUST go through explaining was actually pretty good; namely its tone and its humor. Reflecting on it now that I’ve seen the WHOLE movie, I do think that it will work better for me on a second viewing but it could have been helped somewhat if the film laid a few more of its cards on the table in the first act. We don’t have a full grasp of the situation until just about halfway through the movie, and the uncertainty of key details made it a bit hard for me to really laugh at everything that was going on. I doubt that everyone (or even anyone other than myself) is gonna have THAT specific issue, but maybe pushing certain revelations earlier would have made it easier for me to relax a bit sooner (it really is a stressful situation as it initially unfolds) and I don’t think it would have had any negative impact on the pacing itself. Then there are things I just didn’t find funny even when I have the full context, but your mileage is always going to vary with stuff like that. All I’ll say is that it doesn’t have the refined thematic underpinnings of the Purge films, so the swipes at the billionaire class don’t have much teeth to them. One more thing I have to mention which is something I usually wouldn’t bother shining such a narrow spotlight on, but I’m making an exception here. There is a kill in this that is just AWFUL. I won’t spoil it and for all I know it IS somehow plausible for a person to die this way, but it looks about as ridiculous as someone getting their arm in a closing elevator door and it somehow severing it.
Look, I can gripe about pretty much anything and horror movies can often trip over pet peeves for me that are pretty unique to my tastes. What little I can actually complain about in this is not only minor but also feels mostly resolved by the time the movie ends which will only make it better upon subsequent viewings. I absolutely recommend checking this out if you have the chance; especially if you’re like me and am waiting for another Purge movie to come out. It’s the kind of bloody fun that you look for on a movie night and seeing it with a crowd will only make the experience all the more authentic. Radio Silence have made quite a splash with this one and I can only hope that it leads to bigger and better things down the road; probably involving Marvel since everyone eventually ends up there. Seriously, Disney; can we PLEASE still get movies like these now that Fox is under your umbrella? Heck, make a sequel to this about the Disney family; only with Walt’s head in a mecha suit or something. Hey, you’re the ones who acquired a slew of R rated nastiness with that Fox merger so you might as well embrace it!