Horror comedies are hard. Well, good horror comedies are, as evidenced by the wealth of bad ones out there. They’re challenging in part because of their basic premise – y’know, cracking jokes about people getting brutally murdered – but there’s more to it than that.
Too many horror comedies just try to mash the two genres together – here are some jokes! Here’s some scary shit – which can work, but requires a careful control of tone and, critically, funny jokes, so too many fall flat on their face. Others opt for the self-aware approach, or simply expect that over-the-top ridiculousness is inherently funny; except, as Sontag famously said, this only works when it’s unintentional (Pieces! Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation!) and leaning into rarely works.
What does work? Films like Ready or Not. There’s nothing especially original about Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s take on the genre; it’s basically You’re Next with hide or seek and satire of the super-rich. But it shines because it has the one thing a good horror-comedy needs: timing. I’ve already written at length on this site about how important comic timing is to comedies and how rarely it’s properly executed in Hollywood nowadays, so I won’t belabour the point. But, ah, when you see a film like this that can make a casually tossed-off profanity – or even a blast of unexpected violence – hilarious through precise timing, it’s a joy to behold.
In case you couldn’t tell, I had a lot of fun with Ready or Not. Set in the immediate aftermath – and, yes, that’s the word – of Grace (Samara Weaving) and Alex’s (Mark O’Brien’s) wedding, we’re quickly introduced to the arcane traditions of Alex’s well-heeled family. Enriched by a board game business and, oh, a casual pact with Satan, every new addition to their fold must play a game. Draw a card for chess and you play a game of chess. If you’re unlucky enough to pick the hide or seek card, though, you’ll find yourself in a full-contact iteration of the game incorporating crossbows, shotguns and a particularly sharp axe.
No surprise that Grace pulls the hide and seek card, and is soon matching wits and weapons with Alex’s whole family: brother Daniel (Adam Brody), dad Tony (Henry Czerny), coked-up sister Charity (Elyse Levesque) and Andie MacDowell’s arch matriarch. Every character is sharply sketched; you know who they are within seconds and the screenplay is smart enough to play on these characterisations. (My favourite moment: out-of-his-depth brother-in-law Fitch (Kristian Bruun) searching up YouTube videos on how to operate a crossbow.) The whole cast is more than capable, but the highlight is undeniably Weaving, who, across this and Netflix’s The Babysitter, is putting together a solid résumé as a horror-comedy champ. Or, if you prefer, one of this generation’s scream queens.
Ready or Not is a lot of fun, but it isn’t perfect. There’s much more seeking than hiding, and the creativity and laughs that define the first half of the film fade away into the second half. It’s still entertaining, but the repetitive rhythm of Grace getting captured and escaping becomes a touch monotonous. There are twists in store, naturally – though heavily foreshadowed ones – and the final few minutes are outrageous enough to balance out the preceding slump. It leans right back into its careful blend of comedy and horror and shows its competitors just how it’s supposed to be done.