‘Ready Or Not’ Is (Hopefully) The Kind Of Movie For Which Disney Bought Fox
With all the hand wringing over the fate of Fox and Fox Searchlight under the Disney umbrella, here comes directors Matt Bettinelli-Oplin and Tyler Gillet’s Ready or Not. It’s a delicious bit of late-summer nastiness, an ensemble comedy of terrors, blending scenery-chewing character actors, a corker of a high concept and a star-making lead turn from (comparative) newbie Samara Weaving. It’s (probably) doomed theatrically, but it’s also, if you’re an optimist, exactly the kind of movie for which Disney bought Fox in the first place.
Sure, the Mouse House bought Fox mostly for the IP. However, if movies like this still had a chance in hell of making money in theaters, I’d wager Disney would still want Fox to make a few of its ilk alongside the Deadpool sequels and Avatar movies. Without reading minds, I still maintain that, in late 2017, the Mouse House pursued Fox (which put itself up for sale and was also courted by Comcast) partially to get a foothold in adult-skewing or less explicitly family-friendly fare alongside their gazillion-dollar IPs.
But Fox’s 2018 slate was a wash, save for The Favourite, Bohemian Rhapsody and Deadpool 2, so the likes of Ready or Not and Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit may be an endangered species. This isn’t the part where I beg you to vote with your wallet when this Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy-written original opens on August 21, because I know by now that you won’t. But Ready Or Not is a terrific bit of unapologetic pulp fiction, and that we should savor its ilk while we still can.
The picture is a classic elevator pitch: A young woman (Weaving) gets married to a handsome and charming young man (Mark O’Brien) from a rich and eccentric family, only to discover on her wedding night that she has to partake in a family tradition which involves playing a randomly selected game (like checkers or Connect Four). Alas, when she draws the dreaded “hide and seek” card, there’s a twist, namely that the family members now have until dawn to seek her out and kill her. Family game night never looked so brutal.
The prologue gives us a pretty good idea of what’s to come, and the swiftly paced and character-rich first act plays on our awareness of the film’s plot as a means of building tension and suspense. We get a few choice details (Weaving’s protagonist grew up in foster care, and the family hopes that this marriage will bring the favorite son back into the fold), but most of the work is done by the snarky/quirky dialogue and spot-on casting. The first act is a fine example of efficient table-setting through interaction.
Henry Czerny is a blast; I again wonder why we didn’t get 25 years of him as bad guys and bureaucrats after Mission: Impossible and Clear & Present Danger. Andie MacDowell relishes a chance to get down and dirty, while I must think casting Melanie Scrofano as a conflict-averse ditz who can’t hit the broad side of a barn with the world’s tiniest gun is a meta-joke on her TV persona. Adam Brody shines as the “disappointing” brother who saw too much at a young age.
The color scheme is a bit too “puke orange,” yet it uses the wide-open mansion for a claustrophobic experience not unlike Die Hard. While Weaving gets her share of gif-friendly action beats/empowerment poses, the film is far more concerned with her survival versus her revenge. Despite using the servants as stakes-establishing early victims (in an archly comic fashion that somewhat clashes with its “rich people don’t care about you” mentality), the violence is disciplined and almost restrained. There is suspense by virtue of not playing out like a slasher flick.
Weaving is thrilling to watch throughout, as it’s another reminder that horror (or whatever you want to call this movie) is where young actresses (like Happy Death Day‘s Jessica Rothe) get to shine outside of year-end Oscar contenders and as girlfriends in male-centric melodramas. I could nitpick here (the motivations are more detailed than required) and there (the film peaks in the first half), but Ready Or Not delivers on its core premise in as entertaining a fashion as you could want. It’s trash, to be sure, but it’s high-quality trash.
In a perfect world, Disney would use their market share domination to either increase the opportunities for movies like Ready Or Not to succeed theatrically under the Disney umbrella or merely allow them to exist alongside the insanely profitable MCU movies, live-action remakes and animated flicks. I don’t know for sure what the future holds for Fox under Disney, but Ready or Not is exactly the kind of toy they should be playing with from their newly acquired toy box. I hope Disney can have its cake and eat it too.