Wicked game

In which I still refuse to play hide and seek.

I keep saying that Ready or Not is the film of the year, and people keep giving me that knowing grin, like, “OK, buddy, we get that you liked the movie.” The thing is I’m not really kidding: Ready or Not is... the film of the year. Oh, sure, there might be other good movies released in 2019 — some might even be considered better — but I’m fairly confident Ready or Not will at least remain my film of the year. It’s sharp, it’s funny, it’s gleefully bloody, and it’s a trenchant reminder to eat the rich and trust no man. And yes, because this seems to be the dominant consensus around the movie, it’s also just a really good time.

For the record, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calling a movie “fun” or a “good time,” and Ready or Not is absolutely both. My concern is that those descriptors often get used in a dismissive way, suggesting that while you might be able to turn your brain off and enjoy the movie, you’re not going to get anything substantial out of it. Listen, there are plenty of exceedingly dumb movies that I have been delighted to embrace, and when it comes to that beloved trash, I would never try to argue that there’s some deeper meaning everyone else is missing. Ready or Not, on the other hand, is hardly subtle when it comes to its social commentary, and deserves credit for how thoughtful it is — not only in terms of the (fairly obvious) themes, but also the taut pacing and rich characterization. Yeah, it’s a good time, because it was artfully constructed to be a good time by directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and writers Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy.

The plot, which you’ve surely gleaned from the (way too revealing) trailer if you haven’t already seen the movie, concerns Grace (Samara Weaving) marrying into the wealthy and eccentric Le Domas family. On her wedding night, her new husband, Alex (Mark O’Brien), informs her that she has to play a game with her in-laws based on a randomly selected card. The game ends up being hide and seek with very high stakes: if Grace is discovered, she will be murdered as a ritual sacrifice. This is all part of a longstanding tradition to appease the unseen Mr. Le Bail, who has kept the family rich and successful for generations and is, you know, almost definitely Satan. For someone who has always found hide and seek to be low-key terrifying — seriously, not a fan, very hard on my nerves — I was immediately onboard with the set-up. But where Ready or Not really excels is in the execution (sometimes by crossbow!).

Instead of allowing Grace to be a passive victim, spending the film’s brisk 95-minute runtime trying to evade the homicidal Le Domas family, Ready or Not makes her my favorite kind of Final Girl: the believable badass. She fights back and sometimes goes on the offensive, but she’s not superhuman. She’s just a woman who a) doesn’t want to die, and b) is fed up with the classist, exclusionary bullshit she’s been subjected to ever since she met these assholes. There is immense satisfaction in watching Grace outsmart her would-be killers, a bunch of snooty, entitled dicks who feel like they have every right to sacrifice an innocent woman to preserve their status. That they’re often bumbling, incompetent oafs reflects how unearned that status is — the Le Domases didn’t work hard to get where they are; they made a deal with the devil.

And yes, it’s here that the film’s leftist heart beats strongest. You don’t need to be a film theorist or a DSA member to spot Ready or Not’s critique of the one percent, underlined by Grace repeatedly voicing her feelings about how much rich people fucking suck. But it does make Grace an even better Final Girl, a point of identification for everyone in the audience who isn’t, let’s say, a Trump. It also makes Ready or Not a stronger film than it would be otherwise, in the same way the Purge series improved as it morphed from a standard home invasion thriller into a stark literalization of class warfare. Not every horror film has to have a boldly stated political agenda, and I’m not sure Ready or Not has something more specific to say than a middle finger to the rich, but good horror is steeped in the realities of contemporary society. It speaks to us, in part, because it depicts a heightened, blood-spattered articulation of our fears. In this case, that we are disposable, doomed to be crushed in the wheels of capitalism as the rich get richer by being born into privilege and willing to abandon any sense of decency to retain their sovereignty.

Seriously, though, Ready or Not is a good time! The beauty of well made socially conscious horror is that it doesn’t need to choose between being entertaining and having a strong point of view. The creative team deserves much of the credit here, but I also have to acknowledge the impeccable cast. Samara Weaving got brushed off as a Margot Robbie lookalike, and yes, the resemblance is uncanny, but she’s truly fantastic in this part. While I’d love to see her in a wide range of roles, I do hope she’s willing to maintain her Scream Queen status for a little while longer; the genre could use her. Every member of the Le Domas family is perfectly cast, though I want to give a special shout out to Andie MacDowell, who is a national treasure and should be protected at all costs. (Remember when she had to leave Twitter because she took every tweet about her to heart? We are not worthy.) All of the actors make their characters feel lived in, which helps ground the absurdity of the premise. It’s a joy to watch.

I could gush about this movie endlessly, and if you’ve seen me in person over the last week, you’ve probably heard me do so. I can’t help it! Rarely do all the parts come together to create something this brilliant. I don’t know if Ready or Not will be everyone’s film of the year — historically speaking, lots of people are wrong — but I do know that I love it with all my heart. And not just because it has solidified my lifelong belief that hide and seek is a game for psychopaths.

Photo via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.