And the Oscar goes to…
Ok, the chances of Samara Weaving winning an Academy Award statue as Best Actress for her stellar work in Ready or Not are immeasurably slim, but that doesn’t mean her performance isn’t brilliant…because it is. Not only is she compelling and believable, something too many actors have a hard time with these days, but her nuanced performance as a woman fighting for her life sets a new standard for other actors to aim for, whether in a small budget gore spattered genre film or a gorgeous multi-million dollar Hollywood epic.
The fact that the rest of Ready or Not is just as enjoyable, as both a thrill ride and a biting social commentary, just makes this latest effort from directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Devil’s Due) so special.
In the film, Weaving plays Grace, a young woman about to marry the man of her dreams, Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), in a lush ceremony at his family’s palatial ancestry home. Before the couple can enjoy their first night as man and wife, however, Alex tells Grace of a family tradition they need to take part in; they have to play a game. Since games — board games, card games, and other old fashioned pastimes — are the basis for the family fortunes, it seems only right that the clan gathers around a big table to celebrate and enjoy one each other’s company while playing one.
There’s more to the evening than simply opening a box and setting up a game board. As the head of the clan, Tony Le Domas (Henry Czerny), explains through a devilishly delivered bit of exposition, that it’s also traditional for the newest memory of the family to choose the game they will play by taking a card from a mysterious wooden box. Grace’s card says Hide and Seek so she sets out to hide while the family counts down from 100 as they select their firearms from the collection hanging on the ancestral wall. When it comes to hide and Seek, we discover, the Le Domas family plays it for life or death.
What follows is more than just a series of well-staged kills, make no mistake, there are plenty of those along the way. Although the rich and privileged Le Domas family members start out treating the hunting of Grace like just another game, it’s quickly made clear that she is much more than the poor little waif they assumed she was. Grace has guts and instead of just letting her new inlaws spill them across their polished mansion floors, she fights back. Hard.
And it is with each battle she fights that we watch Weaving’s performance as Grace grow fiercer and more fascinating. Even when things get too intense for the audience, like the scene where she falls into the dank pit where the Le Domas family have tossed the victims, both human and goat, of their earlier games, Grace stays strong. She may cry or cry out, or she may slam her fist into whoever is threatening her while she swears like an angry pirate, but she never gets overwhelmed or surrenders. Somehow she stays strong throughout and if you’re not cheering for her in the final family conflict, then you haven’t been paying attention. And you cheer as much for Weaving as for Grace. It’s hard to imagine another actress (genre or otherwise) who could do an equal, let alone a better job giving the audience a hero to believe in and not just another generic “last woman standing” trope to tie things up at the end.
As writers/directors, Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett naturally deserve a lot of credit for giving Weaving the canvas she needs to paint her masterpiece. Their script is smart and edgy, and their camerawork is stylish, especially in the way they work with cinematographer Brett Jutkiewicz (Them That Follow) to give Ready or Not a warm, honey-drenched glow that seduces you into a false sense of security as you enter the golden world of the Le Domas family. Ready or Not is a beautiful film to look at, even after the blood starts to spray across the family heirlooms.
And singling out Weaving’s performance should in no way detract from the kudos due the rest of the cast. Czerny is perfect as the head of the clan, particularly as he loses control over the game and is driven to more and more desperate measures to save his family and, perhaps more importantly, the family wealth. O’Brien is also effective as the black sheep of the family who seems willing to give up his share of the family gaming monies for the woman he loves, and Adam Brody (Shazam!) is his fascinating as the neer do well drunkard brother whose crush on Grace just may almost be strong enough for him to save the day.
Unfortunately, the women of the Le Domas clan aren’t nearly as fully formed as the men. Andie MacDowell shows a lot of potential as the one who also married into the family and could possibly help Grace survive, but the thought is never really followed to a satisfying conclusion. Although their appearances are brief, Melanie Scrofano is hilarious as Melanie, the inept Le Domas who manages to kill just about everybody in the movie except Grace, and Elyse Levesque is good as the ice princess Charity, the daughter-in-law who seems more suited to the family tradition than her husband.
And for her one of the creepiest stares in horror, Nicky Guadagni deserves a round of applause as the terrifying Aunt Helene.
- John Black, Ready or Not