Ready Or Not ***1/2
One Liner Review:
It’s Clue meets The Most Dangerous Game with a side helping of Cabin In The Wood to complete the picture, and the whole thing works out surprisingly well.
a terrific melding of staples of the mansion murder genre, this one really comes together smoothly. There’s the new bride who joins the family only to be roped into playing a game of deadly hide and seek. And she’s the target. We’ve seen other movies like this before, but this one finds some pretty interesting ways to make it stand out amongst the others. Let’s just say, not everything is what it seems.
Its been quite a year for mansion murder mysteries. Usually these films appear about once every couple of years, but this year, we got two of them. Three of you count the Adam Sandler – Jennifer Aniston Netflix movie Murder Mystery, bit that one is more on a cruise than it is in a mansion. But this year we got Knives Out, the who dunnit mystery, and we also were given Ready Or Not, the hunting a human inside a mansion thriller. That movie successfully combines a familiar story with a unique and spiritual take on it . There’s the familiar – Most Dangerous Game, about humans hunting humans, (remade many times into movies like Surviving The Game and Hard Target.) Then there’s the unique Cabin in the Woods, with the supernatural and spiritual that defies explanation. And of course there’s Clue, what with the characters splitting up to search the mansion, each one wielding a different weapon.
These elements all fit together smoothly. The movie is about a woman, named Grace, marrying into a family, and having to play in their traditional “game.” And that’s where the fun comes in. You see, this is not just a bunch of sadistic murderers, but a family where the members are all about games. Think of it as The Game or Game Night, only set in a mansion (so many other movies come to mind that it’s amazing this one still feels unique.) The family is the La Domas Family. They have made their fortune on board games over the generations, (and propelled that into a dynasty which includes owning three pro sports teams.) The opening credits take us through the mansion while also showing us many of these different games. And lets just say, most of them don’t look like they’re for kids. They feature spirits, the devil, and a character called Mr. Labelle.
The first handful of scenes are about the preparation before the wedding. The event takes place outdoors on the familie’s lawn, and before getting out there, we meet Grace and Alex, (her soon-to-be husband,) in a bedroom, talking things out. Alex’s brother, Daniel, (Adam Brody,) comes in and jokingly tells her to get out if she knows what’s good for her. When Daniel leaves, Alex pretty much says the same thing, or at least offers it, and not so jokingly this time. He tells her if she wants to leave, she can. We, knowing what the movie is about, know why he’s saying this. But of course Grace doesn’t, and so she’s “all the way in.”
Now comes the wedding, where we learn that the father doesn’t really like Grace, the Aunt has the angriest (and scariest,) face in the world, and a trio of maids as well as a butler serve the family and take the pictures. This is the scene where we meet most of the characters. There are still a few more who haven’t shown up yet, (one more family, composed of a sister, her husband, and kids,) who show up later, but at this point we’re meeting everyone else. We meet the mom, (played by the great Andie McDowell,) when she approaches the bride on a bridge, overlooking the area that will later be used for the ceremony. And while she’s talking to the bride, other characters are taking about the bride down below. The movie is very smart in the way it introduces us to the characters little by little. This way, it is easy for us to manage and keep track, and learn who everyone is.
And then the wedding starts and ends, and it’s onto the evening with our couple up in their bedroom. The final family members arrive and its time for the tradition to begin The tradition is that at the stroke of midnight, the new bride has to pick a card. The card will say a game on it, that she has to play with the family. Now, this scene, where they all go into a private room to do the choosing, is the only scene that doesn’t quite work. Not as well as it should, anyway. Part of the problem is that it could have been a really great scene if handled correctly. After all, it’s a choosing a deadly game scene. How bad can it be?
And that’s just it. Only one of the games is deadly. The one she picks. If this had given us a list of creative and sadistic ideas (like Cabin in the Woods,) then it could have been really compelling. But the movie doesn’t go that route. And here’s why it’s a problem. They act like this murder situation is a family tradition, but many of the family members have never been a part of it, or anything like it before. The two that married in, (Danielle’s wife and the husband in the late comer family,) have no reason to play this murdering game. They simply played Chess and Old Maid when it was their turn to play a game and join the family. Even Daniel and Alex were just kids the last time this hide and seek game happened. So it seems like most of the time, it’s just going to be a stupid game chosen, and that’s the end of it. Where’s the fun in that?And how does the family know that hide and seek is the only game that can be chosen, which will be deadly? How do they know that choosing hide and seek means they have to kill? Where did all these directions come from? None of this is explained.
The other problem here is understanding how the card drawing works. When someone “draws a card,” it means they are picking from a bunch of others, and from a bunch of options. Here, they say the character is drawing a card, but really a blank card comes out of a magic box. The character puts the card into the box. And then the spirit of a man named Mr. Labelle apparently decides what game should be played and writes it on the card. Then the card is spit out of the box. Now, obviously, none of this is realistic, but the movie needs to attempt to explain it in order to get us on board. It does no such thing, and the card drawing turns out to be more confusing than anything else.
Of course getting the gist of it what’s happening in the movie is pretty easy. Grace chooses a card. The card says hide and seek. And the rest of the movie is about Grace running around trying to avoid her would-be killers. At first she thinks it’s just a friendly game. She’s lying behind a bed when one of the maids comes in. One of the family members mistakes the maid for Grace, and shoots her in the face. Grace sees it all up close, and Alex is right there behind the bed with her, ready to explain everything and then help her escape.
He shows her a secret passage, the servants quarters, that runs throughout the mansion. Secret passages in a mansion are an awesome touch. Clue had them and so does Knives Out. But instead of staying with Grace, Alex leaves her to make it out of the house on her own. The reason is so that he can get to the control room and shut off the alarms. So she goes running. Considering the premise and scenario, one might scorch her to go into more rooms. For example, a ballroom scene would have been pretty cool, hiding around the tables. But Grace goes into a bedroom, a billiards room, the kitchen, and then a bunch of hallways. She also goes outside into a barn, and out to the street.
The movie does a great job of continuously unfolding, revealing more and more about the characters and situation. There are two big twists towards the end. Both are very different and work beautifully together. But aside from the story, the characters and actors are also blast. The actor who plays Grace, (Samara Weaving,) is a perfect fit for the role and has a lot of personality. And Adam Brody, as the comic relief alcoholic brother is perfect here, delivering the sarcasm at just the right pace. It all makes for a very entertaining and fun ride.