Samara Weaving saves “Ready or Not”

TMN film critic Gordon McPherson gives “Ready or Not” 3 and a half out of 5 axes.

Rest in pieces David Koch. He would not have enjoyed the anti-greed, female-empowered “Ready or Not,” but I suppose that’s a recommendation to watch it. 

While not fully embracing the satiric potential of its premise, “Ready or Not” proves a highly enjoyable, though somewhat trashy B-movie with a brilliant lead performance by Samara Weaving.

Similar to last year’s surprisingly excellent “Game Night,” “Ready or Not” involves a seemingly innocent game gone horribly awry. In this case, a round of hide-and-seek becomes a gory fight for survival involving twisted family traditions. How fun!

Grace, played by Weaving, has just married her fiancé Alex Le Domas, played by Mark O’Brien, whose family is ridiculously rich and, frankly, completely insane. After joining the rest of the family — played by Adam Brody, Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell, among others — at their extravagant estate, Grace must soon fend off her cultist in-laws and last until sunrise.

Pretty crazy, right? Absolutely, but the joys of “Ready or Not” lie not within the plot and themes, but through the film’s relentless pace, off-kilter humor and every scene featuring Weaving, who gives one of the best performances of the year. 

Subversive though the premise could be, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet aren’t especially interested in providing a stringent critique of capitalism and corrupted wealth as much as a thriller with brutally cynical humor.

Some comparisons could be made to contemporary America’s civil tension based on morally questionable cultural “traditions,” I guess. Any movie featuring cults will immediately remind me of Donald Trump’s personality cult as well, to some extent. Perhaps future viewings will enlighten me of the film’s themes, but the film truly rests on the lead’s shoulders.

Speaking of Weaving, she infuses Grace with an emotional range almost undeserving of the film itself. From deadpan sarcasm to animalistic rage, complete with the most enthusiastic screaming in any film in recent memory, Weaving holds the film’s increasingly outlandish proceedings together with gore-splattered hands. Seeing Grace’s journey from cocky newly-wed to determined, courageous heroine is oh-so satisfying.  

In fact, I’d be first in line to watch an Ari Aster film with Weaving as the lead. Her dramatic chops warrant more meaningful, powerful material than “Ready or Not.”

Besides Weaving, the film is entertaining, though uneven, from start to finish. Some of the humor is hit or miss — literally — often relying on over-the-top violence to elicit laughs. While there’s nothing wrong with blunt force humor, the film could have benefited from a slyer approach — like Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” — which employs a similar premise with richly effective social commentary.

The other Le Domas family members, some of which are bloodthirsty and others clumsy buffoons, are passable but nowhere near as compelling as Grace. An axe-wielding aunt, for example, describes another family member as “brown-haired niece.” The potential for character development is often lost behind a mountain of amusing exaggeration.

Some of the camerawork is also distractingly shaky and imprecise, and there are several irritating jump scares, but the film’s technical shortcomings don’t overshadow Weaving’s unwavering command of her every scene. 

As it stands, “Ready or Not” has neither the effective slow-burn approach, cinematographic effectiveness nor intelligence of Peele’s masterpiece. Taken on its own, less ambitious terms, though, the film is still an enjoyable time at the movies, especially after a long first week of Truman classes.