Bodily fluids are an important staple in comedy. Many comedies, especially those in bad taste, will have some combination of pee, poop, semen, and so on. It is expected, therefore, to find some fluids funnier than others, and which fluid you funniest says a lot about the type of comedy you like. Ready or Not, the new black comedy about an awful wedding night, is for people who find blood the funniest. I am one of those people, so while the action drags in its middle third, the filmmakers’ capacity for comic shock is what might make the film an eventual midnight classic.
Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett spend virtually no time on the courtship and nuptials between Grace (Samara Weaving) and Alex (Mark O’Brien). They seem comfortable together and their banter is playful, so it easy to accept them as happy newlyweds. You already sense Alex’s ultra-rich family is a little weird, in terms of their hostility to in-laws and their propensity for secrets. Later that evening, Grace learns that in order to be fully initiated into Alex’s family, she must play a game at midnight. That game happens to be Hide and Seek, except her in-laws play for keeps. They all try and kill her, mostly using primitive weaponry, and Grace eventually learns the family’s dark secret.
The twists and sinister background help explain Ready or Not, but the real fun is in the banter between the characters. Familiar faces like Adam Brody, Andie MacDowell, Henry Czerny, and Kristian Bruun – who play Alex’s brother, mother, father, and brother-in-law – have fun by behaving really, really badly. The film’s central irony is that, even though they’re meant to approach the hide and seek game with maniacal zeal, they act like privileged jerks who hate getting their hands dirty.
There is a running gag that the in-laws keep murdering the help by mistake, and it only gets more gruesome from there. While Alex’s family chews the scenery, Weaving is convincing as an everywoman. Nasty things happen to her in this film, and her guttural cries of terror are always convincing. So are her attempts at humor, with have a touch of Die Hard to them.
Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett have a strong command of tone, and know when to escalate it. When one of the maids have has her face blown off, you see all manner of brain and skull, the scene’s true purpose is how everyone ignores her pathetic gasps for breath. Horror fans are used to this kind of detachment, although directors usually commit to it in service of laughter. If you’re on its wavelength, Ready or Not will keep you chuckling until its final minutes. There is a lull in the action, particularly once the novelty of the premise wears off, but at least the directors and screenwriters have a devilish sense of irony.
Ready or Not is not about weddings, or even rich jerks. It is about the uncertainty of being accepted into a family. Since we learn Grace grew up in foster care, she is keenly aware of his tension. As Adam’s brother Daniel, Brody is convincing as a resigned drunk who cannot decide between moral rot and doing the right thing, while her MacDowell handily veers from good manners to violent hysteria. This is not a film with ambition or even good taste. If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, the rewards are a film that maintains its nerve and serves buckets upon buckets of hilarious blood. Gallows humor is rarely this playful.