Ready or Not is one of the not too uncommon works that is open about being designed with a future cult audience in mind. A wedding turns into a bloody game of hide and seek as a rich family must hunt down the bride or risk possible annihilation from an old family curse. The narrative tension is so patently absurd that it could never be taken seriously while being rife with opportunities to make broad social statements it isn’t necessarily equipped to make. This can be a recipe for disaster, the formula lazy filmmakers sometimes use to draw in an undeserved audience before serving them garbage – it’s a rare attempted cult classic that truly embraces its absurdity while putting in the effort to capture a style uniquely its own.
Though it never makes the mistake of taking itself seriously, Ready or Not is successful at identifying what makes this absurd premise so immediately resonant. Many of these ‘instant-cult’ films go the horror comedy angle which is really to say that these films are laughing at their own stupidity – the filmmakers are never even attempting to pull off anything scary. Here, the comedy is a natural extension of the conflict – by focusing on a family forced into killing every few decades, the villains of this movie are either unwilling or largely incapable. Their incompetence never detracts from the horror elements, instead offering a reasonable excuse for why Samara Weaving’s Grace has an actual chance at escape. The film is always asking us to laugh at its characters, never itself.
The acting isn’t anything particularly noteworthy, but this falls into a category of film where people are more playing absurd camp caricatures than full-fledged characters. These performances build up a wonky atmosphere by playing into the weird social statements this film is latching onto. This is a work that gleefully tears into the wealthy, from those born with a silver spoon to the greedy devils that will marry into it no matter the cost. The film likewise rejoices in slaughtering the servants who seek to win the family’s favor as if they, too, have a piece in this game.
Tradition is the name of the game here – one would hope such a family would decide to stop marrying people into their family if this was the cost. Instead, brutality is quickly normalized and becomes yet another tradition. It’s a bizarrely funny take on what the rich will do to maintain their power, especially if it merely harms what they still view as outsiders.
Part of what sells this experience for me is the shadowy yet saturated color scheme. It suggests a classic period piece aesthetic which is suitable for a family so horrifically stuck in the past, with the wedding night attire a fitting addition. This style works equally well as the film descends into an extended horror sequence as Grace is hunted down by the family’s butler. This is the value of delineating so clearly between humor and horror, as the film allows us to fear for Grace without ever causing emotional whiplash. The family’s quirks are funny, her experience most assuredly is not. Thus, there is an absolutely stellar sequence as Grace tries to find solace outside.
There are a few questionable twists and turns by the end, but they rarely detract from the aesthetic success that is Ready or Not (and I’d argue they have a bit more weight when considering earlier actions). This is otherwise an absurdly fun take-down of inherited wealth and absolutely deserves any cult status it finds – it is rare for a film of this nature to put so much effort into actually bringing its dumb-yet-fun premise to life. Effectively horrific and fabulously campy, Ready or Not is an easy recommendation for anyone looking for something falling a bit outside the Hollywood norm.
4 Stars Out of 5