REVIEW: USC alumni-produced horror film blends thrills with satire

“Ready or Not” stars Samara Weaving and is produced by USC alumni Tripp Vinson and James Vanderbilt. It was released on Aug. 21. (Photo from IMDb)

In the post-“Get Out” era of horror-comedy, it’s difficult to see new films without the veil of the movies’ shadow. “Ready or Not,” a horror comedy produced by USC alumnis Tripp Vinson and James Vanderbilt, is no freer of that burden than any other new horror film. From the moment the camera pulls away from a sinister shot of a devil playing cards to a strictly humorous scene, it is difficult to avoid that connection.

To its credit, the film never feels like a cheap copy of the former but almost like a logical alternative. Here, instead of race relations, the cinematic conversation centers on the rich. Yet, the film never feels preachy, nor does it obsess itself with forcing social commentary.

The movie consistently walks a tightrope between seemingly opposing conventions and ideas. The opening scene is dim and gloomy in typical horror or thriller movie fashion. The scene that immediately ensues, along with the timing and stylistic decisions of the title cards, makes the film feel like it might be a light-hearted comedy, yet the film is neither. At times it favors drama or leans into its gorier elements, but never for long and never free of another thematic or genre dimension. 

The movie’s ability to introduce social commentary in a way that is immediately visible, but not especially forced or obsessive, is commendable. It’s obvious “Ready or Not” is poking fun at the 1% by positioning the richest characters as the most evil — we see this most directly with the way that Charity Le Domas is portrayed. 

The most striking feature of this film is not its ability to catapult us from emotion to opposing emotion or from character allegiance to opposing character allegiance, rather it is the remarkable ability to do both at once — to make the viewer both hate a character and root for them against all others, to have laugh and be repulsed by any singular action.

Unexpectedly (and even more proficiently than “Get Out”), “Ready or Not” is masterful in its manner of evoking emotional plurality, in the viewer, especially in a way where the joke or gore feels earned and genuine. When there’s a shot of the main character, Grace (Samara Weaving) getting injured, for instance, it never feels like it’s for the sake of blood.

The film’s weakest moments were mostly with respect to specific characters and performances, mostly early on in the film. Aunt Helene, played by Nicky Guadagni, in particular, feels a bit cartoonish in her villainy. Her introductory shots and much of the performance felt cheap or embellished. Given the surrounding performances and overall sincerity of the film, much of her character felt drawn on. In the beginning, some of Andie MacDowell’s boisterous Becky Le Domas performance was also distracting.

Yet the film had many layered and believable performances by its leads. Adam Brody did a wonderful job of showing Daniel Le Domas’ internal struggle in a manner that felt rounded and emotionally impactful. Mark O’Brien’s character, Alex Le Domas, has a series of devastating and shocking experiences, the toll of which O’Brien demonstrated beautifully. And finally Weaving, who played the protagonist Grace, did a beautiful job of making each additional devastation feel new and affecting.

This film felt absurd yet logical. The premise and actions taken by the characters were always surprising, but never lost their sense of inevitability

“Ready or Not” was delightful to watch. The story feels original and compelling while maintaining a lot of emotional dexterity and control, which is a credit to screenwriters Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy as well as many of the actors. It truly does meet, and in some respects exceed, the “Get Out” benchmark.