'Ready or Not' movie still

The Le Domas family takes games very seriously. A little too seriously, really. But Grace doesn’t find that out until she’s become one of them.

Mere hours after exchanging vows with the youngest Le Domas — whose family has built a lavish empire around its popular board game brand — Grace (Samara Weaving) is invited into her new in-laws’ Gothic mansion for a family game night. When asked to draw a card to determine what the game will be, she picks Hide and Seek, after which she ventures into the massive house to find someplace to hide.

Meanwhile, the Le Domases arm themselves with an arsenal of antique weaponry. The countdown ends, and they commence their hunt for the new bride. Before long, Grace realizes that she has been drawn into the fight of her life, and what follows is a carnage-filled battle that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “shotgun wedding.”

“Ready or Not” cements Weaving — who previously turned heads as a babysitting baddie in Netflix’s “The Babysitter” — as a dynamic scream queen, and continues a banner year for leading ladies in horror that began with Jessica Rothe in “Happy Death Day 2U” and Lupita Nyong’o’s double-role in “Us.” Her irresistible charm and dry jokiness pair splendidly with Grace’s timid-to-tough-as-nails arc, giving audiences someone they can instantly cheer for and fear for.

Speaking of fear, the film is at its best when it takes time to bathe in the horribly creepy atmosphere of the Le Domas estate, with dimly-lit cinematography that is somehow both beautiful and foreboding. From the moment Grace’s predators, armed to the teeth, depart from the game room into the shadowy house, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett imbue the film with a palpable sense of dread that anyone can lurk around any corner at any moment. The terror is further enhanced by eerie, sometimes morally ambiguous side performances, especially from “The O.C.” alum Adam Brody.

Still, horror films thrive most fully when they follow stories that develop in a way that is organic and driven by character, and “Ready or Not” can’t help but feel disappointingly manufactured. Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy, who penned the script, often resort to easy screenwriter’s tricks: illogical character turns meant to fabricate tension and a number of deus-ex-machinas mar an otherwise taut and legitimately shocking tale that manages to pack a lot into a mere hour and a half.

In perhaps the most disappointing movie summer this decade, “Ready or Not” makes for a fitting topper. Some might find the intense violence difficult to stomach while others will struggle to tolerate some frustrating plot conveniences, but anyone who can look past these quirks will find this film to be a bloody good time.

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Rating: 3.5/5

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John Battiston is a Times-Mirror reporter and a founder of the Reel Underdogs podcast. Contact him at jbattiston@loudountimes.com. Reel Underdogs is not affiliated with the Times-Mirror.

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