Of all the twists in the insanely gory and funny horror thriller “Ready or Not,” the best is in the premise: What if the “final girl” — the last survivor to face the killer’s rampage — was the only girl?
That’s the situation Grace (Samara Weaving) faces on her wedding night, after marrying Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), heir to a family fortune acquired making board games. After the wedding, Alex tells Grace that there’s a family tradition anytime someone joins the La Domas clan, in which the newcomer has to play a game. Which game? That’s determined by drawing a card from an antique box, whose provenance is explained by the current patriarch, Tony (Henry Czerny).
Grace draws the “hide and seek” card. As Tony explains, Grace must hide somewhere in the La Domas mansion, and the others in the family must find her. What Grace doesn’t know, and what a frantic Alex tries to explain, is that the game is deadly — and that the family is grabbing shotguns, pistols, axes and crossbows in an effort to hunt Grace down before dawn. If Grace survives, Alex says with a morose expression, the whole family will perish, for reasons that aren’t explained for a long time.
That’s the set-up that rookie screenwriters Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy (no relation to the Ryan Murphy who created “American Horror Story”) let unfold in some occasionally clunky exposition dialogue. The fun part in the early going is introducing Grace to Alex’ messed-up relations, his no-nonsense mom, Becky (Andie MacDowell), his gravely sinister aunt Helena (Nicky Guadagni), his alcoholic older brother, Daniel (Adam Brody), and coked-up klutzy sister Emilie (Melanie Scrofano) among them.
Once the game is afoot, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (who co-directed “Devil’s Due” and segments of the horror anthologies “Southbound” and “V/H/S”) deftly split the focus between Grace’s desperate efforts to survive the night and the family’s comically inept attempts to catch her. The directors deploy a wicked, and blood-splattered, sense of humor, like when they deploy a running gag about Emilie’s nervousness with weaponry contributing to an alarming death toll among the hired help.
(“Ready or Not” is being released by Fox Searchlight, recently acquired by Disney, so I chalk up to vestigial corporate family bonds — and pig ignorance — the fact that Fox News didn’t launch a scare campaign this movie instead of that other movie about rich people killing poor people for sport, Universal’s “The Hunt.”)
But “Ready or Not” wouldn’t work if Weaving wasn’t so charming, and smart, as the tenacious heroine. Weaving, an Australian beauty who impressed with a small role in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” navigates smoothly from sweetly innocent through scared prey to avenging bad-ass, winning over the audience as she tries to win the game and take the title as “final girl” for the ages.
’Ready or Not’
Opens Wednesday, August 21, in theaters everywhere. Rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughout and some drug use. Running time: 95 minutes.