Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Radio Silence’s Ready or Not

Downton Abbey fans definitely remember how difficult the entail inheritance scheme made life for the Crawley family (who only had daughters instead of sons). However, it seems happily progressive compared to the circumstances of the Le Domas family legacy. Their fortune is tied up in a Faustian bargain that is truly Faustian. Grace learns the shocking truth when she marries into the wealthy clan, but she might not live long enough to enjoy her honeymoon in Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett’s Ready or Not, executive produced Chad Villella, the third member of their Radio Silence filmmaking combo, which opens today in New York.

Dirt-poor Grace grew up in foster-care, so she is thrilled to finally have a family—even one as intimidatingly dysfunctional as Alex Le Domas’s clan. Their fabulous fortune does not hurt either. They made their money through games, like a sinister Parker Brothers, so it is a mandatory tradition for brides or grooms joining the family to play a randomly chosen game on their wedding night. It is usually just an eccentric quirk, unless Hide-and-Seek comes up through the luck of the draw. They play that game by a decidedly nontraditional set of rules.

The last time there was a nuptial game of Hide-and-Seek was played, Alex was child. He has been semi-estranged from the estranged from the family ever since. However, he still has to play—because there are fatal penalties for elopement. Of course, he is horrified at the prospect of his family hunting Grace Most Dangerous Game-style. He tries to help her, even though the Le Domases believe they will face serious karmic consequences if they do not hunt her down by dawn. Right, the game’s afoot.

The film’s basic premise is pretty clear from trailers and promo material, but the details of the full backstory are devilishly gothic. The entire creepy mansion setting is a triumph of art direction worthy of vintage Hammer Horror. There are plenty of subversive class-conscious implications, but fortunately Radio Silence does not let that get in the way of the bloody lunacy that erupts.

It hardly seems like a coincidence that Henry Czerny and Andie McDowell somewhat resemble Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern from Downton. Regardless, they are both terrific as the witheringly snobby patriarch Tony, and Becky, the matriarch, who is deceptively warm and welcoming on the outside, but ruthlessly steely at her core.

However, it is Samara Weaving who is destined to become famous for her work as Grace. It might not happen immediately, but the scenes of her wielding a shotgun while wearing a blood-stained wedding gown are just too perfect not get absorbed into the pop culture consciousness. The same could be true for Nicky Guadagni, who is spectacularly unhinged as battle-axe-wielding Aunt Helene. In fact, it is quite a colorful supporting cast, with Kristian Bruun scoring big laughs as “Fitch,” the pompous son-in-law and John Ralston handily taking care of horror movie business as Stevens, the Lurch-from-Hell butler.

Ready or Not represents a gruesome shot of paranoia, but it is also quite a jolly bit of fun. Come for the undermining of traditional family and marital structures, but stay for the social Darwinism. Enthusiastically recommended for horror fans, Ready or Not opens today (8/21) in theaters throughout the City, including the AMC Empire.