Weddings are often fraught with anxiety, as two people attempt to meld their extended families in sometimes uncomfortable, unwelcome ways. But fights between brides and their prospective in-laws usually don't escalate to the level that unsuspecting Grace (Samara Weaving) encounters when she marries into the wealthy, powerful Le Domas family in the gleefully nasty horror-comedy Ready Or Not.
After a whirlwind courtship, Grace is marrying Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien), who's sort of the black sheep of the family, and has reluctantly returned to have his wedding at the sprawling Le Domas estate. Alex's family members range from friendly (his snarky brother Daniel, played by Adam Brody, and his flinty mother Becky, played by Andie MacDowell) to hostile (his menacing Aunt Helene, played by Nicky Guadagni), but Alex assures Grace that his family's opinion doesn't matter to him. The day after the wedding, he promises, they'll leave and never look back.
First, though, they have to play a game. The Le Domas family made its fortune on playing cards, board games and, eventually, professional sports teams, and the slightly odd family tradition is that anyone who marries a Le Domas has to participate in a game with the rest of the family on their wedding night. Bemused but up for the challenge, Grace listens to family patriarch Tony (Henry Czerny) recount the story of how his great-grandfather founded the Le Domas company thanks to a mysterious benefactor. This literal deal with the devil occasionally requires a sacrifice, and if Grace draws hide and seek as her game (as opposed to, say, chess or Old Maid, like Alex's siblings' spouses did), the family will have to hunt her down and offer her up to their lord and master.
Screenwriters Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy and directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett wait nearly the entire movie before revealing whether this pact is a real thing, and the Le Domases will actually suffer supernatural death if they don't catch and sacrifice Grace before dawn. That playful uncertainty allows Ready Or Not to work both as a horror movie about Satan-worshipers stalking their innocent prey and as a satire about the irrational, violent ends that the rich will go to (and get away with) in order to retain their money and influence. For the most part, it doesn't really matter why the Le Domases are determined to kill Grace. It just matters that they value their comfort and status far more than they value her life.
Grace, for her part, decides not to go quietly, and Weaving gives a fantastic performance, balancing Grace's fear and disbelief with an inner sense of strength and righteous fury at being dragged into this insane ritual and forced to fight for her life. Alex claims to want to protect her, but he's clearly unable to entirely relinquish his family connections, to give up the access to power that he's had his entire life. O'Brien is a little bland, but Brody is excellent as the self-loathing Daniel, who's more self-aware about his moral conflicts and hypocrisy, but still can't betray the family that raised him. Czerny, who really dug into the role of a rich, manipulative patriarch during his years on the underrated ABC drama Revenge, brings that same giddy sadism to Tony.
There's some evocative tragedy in the family dynamic (especially from Brody as Daniel), but Ready Or Not is mostly just nasty fun, from the running joke about the family's maids accidentally getting killed to the cluelessness of Alex's brother-in-law Fitch (Orphan Black's Kristian Bruun), who's a little too eager to join in the family traditions. The dialogue is often clever, and Weaving's delivery is always spot-on, but the humor comes less from the sharp wit than from the absurdity of the situations. The directors (part of the Radio Silence collective, who previously created strong segments in horror anthologies V/H/S and Southbound) stage the set pieces expertly, making strong use of the labyrinthine old house.
Although it's never exactly scary, Ready Or Not is often suspenseful, turning laughs into tension within the space of a single edit. The gore mounts as the movie goes on, and a scene of Grace climbing out of a pit of human and animal remains in the family barn is especially gruesome and tense. Weaving makes Grace easy to root for, and enough of the Le Domas family members have enough moral complexity to them that they're not just cartoonish villains.
Eventually, the filmmakers can't resist taking things over the top, embracing the full-on explicit horror that they've previously held back. It's a bit of a letdown after the lively action leading up to it, but it represents a total commitment to the ridiculous premise. Like the members of the Le Domas family, the filmmakers are more than willing to take things as far as they need to go, and then go a little bit further.
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and starring Samara Weaving, Mark O'Brien, Adam Brody, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Kristian Bruun, Melanie Scrofano, Nicky Guadagni and Elyse Levesque, Ready Or Not opens in theaters Wednesday.