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Homicidal hide-and-seek

Horror comedy 'Ready or Not' capitalizes on 1% hatred

The horror comedy "Ready or Not" revels in the deaths of America's wealthiest 1 percent.

The movie imagines a wealthy family protecting themselves and their gaming empire by superstitiously observing a potentially deadly ritual: When someone marries into the Le Domas family, the new family member must draw a card and play the game printed on it.

Parcheesi? Easy breezy. Chess? No mess. But pick the card reading "Ready or Not," and you've been unwittingly enlisted in a game of homicidal hide-and-seek.

After marrying Daniel Le Domas (Mark O'Brien), Grace (Samara Weaving) picks the wrong card and obligingly hides in the family mansion. Quickly, it becomes apparent to her that her life is at stake, and that she'll need to kill her new family if she's to live to see another dawn. As the top-down thinking goes in the Le Domas family, slaying Grace is a necessary evil -- the stance of parents, Tony and Becky (Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell), and aunt Helene (scenery-chewing Nicky Guadagni) -- although some among the younger generation, most notably Daniel's brother Alex (Adam Brody) and Daniel himself, doubt the necessity of the ritual.

Audience sympathies, of course, lie squarely with Grace, who must embrace her inner brute to kill or be killed. (The film's best asset is Weaving expertly running the emotional gamut.)

At 95 minutes, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett's film aims to move fast enough to avoid allowing the audience much time to question the plotting. But that gambit also results in thin characters and thinner satire. Baked into the premise is a statement on amoral capitalism: It's a dog-eat-dog world; life a game to win or lose; and if innocents need to die while looking out for number one, their deaths qualify as unfortunate but necessary collateral damage.

Call it the new populism, call it tasteless or call it the canary in the coal mine for the coming class war, but "Ready or Not" just isn't all that clever, and its entertainment value uncomfortably rests on bloodthirst for one's enemies. I suppose that's not very different from any other predator-prey horror splatterfest, but that's also part of the problem with Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy's screenplay, which despite the charge of family infighting, winds up feeling bloody impersonal in its blunt-force thrills. Then again, it's only a movie. Bettinelli-Olpin got his start as a punk rocker in the band Link 80: Maybe it's best to think of "Ready or Not" as gifting us a mosh pit for primal-scream therapy.

— Peter Canavese

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