Ready or Not needed a few more minutes

Though it’s ostensibly about the rich hunting the poor, this horror movie’s satirical bite is practically non-existent.

Of course, Get Out was going to breed some imitators. Runaway horror hits have never stood alone too long, even in the 1930s. When something as miraculous as Get Out’s box office take happens, you can’t really expect that studios are going to leave well alone. I guess I just couldn’t see exactly where they would go until I saw Ready or Not. Granted, this film can’t quite be reduced to a simple clone; I’m sure it was in production before Get Out was released, and only the most bankrupt snake-oil salesmen would attempt to lift that film’s premise wholesale. Nevertheless, there’s a healthy heaping of Get Out in Ready or Not’s nightmarish meet-the-inlaws premise. There’s even some social commentary, but Ready or Not proves it’s not quite enough to just ensure the pretense of something to get it across.

Grace (Samara Weaving) is marrying her beau Alex (Mark O’Brien) after a whirlwind courtship (she calls it an 18-month bone-a-thon) that attracts the suspicion of his family. After all, Alex is an heir to the Le Domas (it’s pretty much pronounced dumbass, yes) family, a tony old-money dynasty that has made its fortune selling cards and board games. As it turns out, games are still very important for patriarch Tony (Henry Czerny), his wife Becky (Andie MacDowell), his sister Helene (Nicky Guadagni) and their other grown children: drunkard Danny (Adam Brody), his wife Charity (Elyse Levesque) and coked-out youngest sibling and mother of two Emilie (Melanie Scrofaro) and her douche husband Fitch (Kristian Bruun). As it turns out, the family has a tradition of welcoming new additions to the family by playing a randomly selected game — and if that game happens to be hide-and-seek, the new addition better hope they can make themselves very small — because in this case, man is the most dangerous game.

Rich people are the target here — their privilege, their dumb rules, the way they float above the rest of the world and consider themselves above reproach. That’s, at least, the foundation of the idea, because in most cases the barbs thrown at the rich limit themselves to “Fuckin’ rich people” and its ilk. They’re depicted as cunning and murderous but fundamentally incompetent, bickering about who gets to use what contraption of death and running off to the bathroom to check out tutorials on YouTube. They’re convinced that murdering someone once every 20 years or so is the only way of keeping away a curse that they’ve never had any confirmation is actually likely to come true — which is a funny concept, but one that’s undone by the thin character development and general tossed-off nature of its premise.

There’s a kernel of interesting satire there — about the rituals of the very rich, from debutante balls to rare animal safaris — but unfortunately Ready or Not is so eager to cut to the chase that it eschews any idea of slow-burn suspense or character development. The first hour of the film is serviceable though generic horror action spiked with pretty obvious humour, its biggest leaps toward black comedy being the dubious choice to kill off the family’s three au-pairs through ridiculous and accidental means. (It’s a little telling when your ostensible class satire’s big swings are murdering the help for a punchline.)

Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a studio horror movie go this hard in terms of gore and general discomfort. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (known collectively as Radio Silence) have not dialed down the unpleasantness from their indie roots, and the film features quite a few moments of crunchy, squelchy power — possibly hitting an apex in a sequence in which Grace has to voluntarily plunge a rusty nail through her hand. It’s also a surprisingly richly photographed film considering the budget and general pedigree of this type of movie — suffice to say that the technical elements of the film are not working against it. It’s the script, too simplistic and too self-satisfied, that really mucks things up.

By the last act, Ready or Not turns into an all-out farce, and that’s where it finally hits its stride. While its first two acts trade in a kind of lazy nihilism peppered with humour that goes directly against its purported satirical targets, the last act is just completely silly, which finally starts to jibe properly with the tone. Ready or Not is serviceable as far as horror goes, and its message simple enough to get a couple of whoops out of anyone these days, but its bite is so much weaker than its bark that I’m not sure gross head-exploding effects are enough. If the current garbage fire of society has more or less killed the idea of satire, then surely throwing a bucket of fake blood on your heroine and having her mutter “rich people suck” through gritted teeth is not going to be enough. ■

Ready or Not opens in theatres on Wednesday, Aug. 21. Watch the trailer here: