It’s only taken two starring turns in two particularly well-liked (if not necessarily ‘mainstream’) releases, but the world seems already ready to call Aussie Samara Weaving the genre heroine of the moment. Between Mayhem and Netflix’s The Babysitter, she’s carved out a happy little niche as a de-facto horror icon, without ever having to flirt with the sort of “scream-queen” roles that were classically the bread and butter for women in the genre. And her latest leading turn, as a jilted bride forced into a deadly cat-and-mouse game with who else but her new in-laws, might well prove to be her starriest, and meatiest role to date.
Part balls-to-the-wall horror-comedy, part deliciously scathing upper-class satire, Ready Or Not plays like the ultimate studio genre movie; a gory, self-contained thrill-ride that pits itself as You’re Next meets Die Hard, running off a whip-smart script and plenty of neatly stylish visuals. It’s the sort of horror that didn’t need to be as loveably practical and well-assembled as it is to make the waves it’s bound to make; a rare gem that makes the most of the rampant newbie energy of both its star and first-time feature directors Matt Bettinelii-Olpin & Tyler Gillett (favourites on the anthology scene with segments for V/H/S and the hugely underrated Southbound).
Weaving’s Grace, a grown-up foster kid finally getting her happily-ever-after after marrying into a wealthy gaming dynasty, is one of the most fully-formed and terrifically tricky female characters the horror world has had in a while. Kicking things off as the rags-to-riches princess that most classics round out with, she touches on the ‘final girl’ idea very briefly, before rejecting a lot of the dark-hearted, morally-dubious acts such archetypes usually end up getting involved with.
It’s all-too easy (and often) that horror heroines win over genre audiences by ‘taking back control’ in the traditional sense – turning the tables on their attackers and essentially stooping to their level; the hunted becoming the hunters. But screenwriters Gary Busick and Ryan Murphy are having none of it here, holding on to the moral core of what makes their upper class baddies so truly reprehensible; their total disregard for human life. Grace defends herself for sure, raising plenty of fist-pumping victory cheers throughout, but it’s only ever as an extension of her very human desperation and natural survival instinct.
Weaving adds plenty of bigger layers through her performance too; a goofy, loveable sense of humour, a knowing nod to the audience every time the script takes a particularly barmy turn. Little extra touches that again, show her knowledge of the genre; additional twangs of genius that Ready Or Not might’ve survived without, but is all the better for them.
Busick and Murphy’s script is loaded with plenty of subtle little world-building nooks and crannies as well (in an ancient-order, John Wick-esque way) that only builds on the solid foundations and makes for an even heftier final act. From script-to-screen, it’s incredibly tight – not a wasted jump or unmilked bump in sight.
Between them all, the Ready Or Not team have come out with a seriously clever new spin on several horror mainstays, twisting together the old-school cat-and-mouse, classic slasher, and 80s thriller into an absolute blast of a feature. Practical without ever being restrictive, knowing without ever being smug, and always hinged on the heart and humanity of its terrifically-built lead, it’s the sort of studio picture that only pops up once every few years – an absolute home-run of a genre movie, that deserves a place among the modern greats.
Ready Or Not was screened as part of Arrow Video FrightFest 2019.