Grace’s dawning realization of what’s happening provides Ready or Not with both its strongest comedic and dramatic beats. The Le Domas’ maids serve as red-shirts for the family, untrained in swordplay or archery, to accidentally slaughter. The clownish nature of their deaths coupled with the self-serving freakouts of the family are strong genre fare, but they’re balanced by Grace’s grounded reaction to what just happened. She’s the only one who doesn’t know she’s in a horror movie. Tasked with staying alive til morning, Grace isn’t depicted as a stoic heroine dramatically cocking a shotgun with a look of confident badassery on her face. Weaving, in a guttural physical performance, sells the terror of her experience, feeling the adrenaline and the disbelief before getting her mind around it and pushing it down as much as she can. She takes a great deal of punishment and doles some out as well, and the directors never make it exploitative with revealing dress rips or cheap with a Stallone-esque kiss-off line.
As Grace struggles to see the sunrise, the family becomes more stressed themselves at the prospect of not winning the game. Played by the likes of Adam Brody, Henry Czerny, and the memorably severe visage of Nicky Guadagni, the Le Domas’ exhibit all the traits that make the rich so uniquely detestable. The maids are played for comic relief, but their deaths are immediately dismissed by the family in a way that feels exactly right. The Le Domas family legend, wherein a mysterious traveler gave a lucky trinket to an ancestor, discounts the level of luck and happenstance in that story while elevating all the gumption it took to build this empire. The family isn’t entirely onboard with the ritual, but the most rebellion they can muster is snark before ultimately kowtowing to it. In this last regard, the film has a lot of fun with Alex and his brother Daniel, played by Brody, both of whom voice the greatest reluctance and play the potential role of spoilers. Grace certainly isn’t going to find allies in Becky or the other outsiders, all of whom cling most tightly to their status like they’re a Laura Dern meme from Big Little Lies.
Ready or Not surpasses expectations and becomes one of the better recent entries in the horror genre. Though it’s an increasingly unpopular term, no one would call this elevated horror despite that it does most of the same things that the Hereditary’s and the Babadook’s of the world do. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett demonstrate that artsy metaphors and intense drama aren’t required to smuggle sociological messaging into horror, that a populist film with a high body count can be as fun as it wants to be and be thoughtful, too. The film ultimately makes a forceful and memorable choice between these two poles and more than anything previous, makes me regret that I missed this in theaters even if I might’ve wished for something different. Ready or Not seems destined for drunken movie nights or teen slumber parties, a crowd-pleaser that the cinephile and the causal viewer can both feel great about. B