Friday 4 October 2019

Most dangerous game: "Ready or Not"

After a midsummer of so-called elevated horror, something from the down 'n' dirty end of the genre spectrum. Ready or Not has absolutely no ambitions whatsoever towards making a statement - save to say that rich folk are suspect, sometimes screwy, which you will have known going in - and eschews Ari Aster's hollow virtuosity for basic, nuts-and-bolts competency. The movie sets something up; it pays it off; and it sends the audience home with both their bloodlust and their desire for karmic justice sated. The script, by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy (not that one), starts with a good, outré premise. On her wedding night, a young bride (Samara Weaving) learns that she's expected to undergo an initiation: a potentially deadly game of hide-and-seek with the moneyed family of board-game maniacs she's just married into. Hold out undiscovered in and around the clan's sprawling Gothic pile until daybreak, and the honeymoon will apparently be hers; get caught at any point, and her marriage (and, we gather, her very existence) will be all too swiftly annulled. Wisely, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett see no need to upholster that initial elevator pitch. The movie that results really could be sold as Succession with severed arteries or a Rebecca with a hard R rating (Rebecca meets Hard Target, if you like), and who wouldn't be tempted to give that a go of a Friday or Saturday night?

Within that remit, the filmmakers work reasonably hard, both to sustain the game over ninety minutes (judiciously placed collateral damage helps) and to achieve a tone that's darkly comic without toppling over into Final Destination-like glibness. Everything within the game develops nicely. Weaver - a useful midpoint between Margot Robbie and Eva Green - starts out tipsy, gets traumatised, and winds up a tough little fucker; her long white wedding dress is snagged, besmirched and ripped for the purposes of better aerodynamics, her heels ditched for the yellow Converse she'd packed for the reception. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett use the time their heroine spends hiding to draw a warped family portrait: the terse traditionalist grandmother (Nicky Guadagni), first to pick up an axe in anger; the milquetoast groom (Mark O'Brien), attempting to give his sweetheart a leg up, and a way out; the latter's alcoholic brother (the ever-precise, still bafflingly underemployed Adam Brody), drinking to drown his self-loathing; and the blithe Southern belle ma, who - as played by Andie MacDowell - suggests some conceptual joke about the film having one wedding and four funerals minimum. It all still feels vaguely throwaway - the kind of perfectly adequate genre one-off that will be gone from our screens inside a week and a bit - and the kill scenes aren't as memorable as they perhaps needed to be, but it's reassuring to encounter a mainstream horror film that goes looking for proper story and character beats rather than just littering its soundtrack with loud parps.

Ready or Not is now playing in selected cinemas.

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