Ready or Not
Well, what’ya know; Ready or Not is maybe the biggest surprise of 2019 so far. What looked like yet another You’re Next or The Purge is actually the definitive ‘Fuck the rich’ horror film of the moment, and yet another entry in this decade’s renaissance of great horror. It’s clear from the opening scene that Ready or Not isn’t so much oblivious to the rules of the genre, it just doesn’t care. Filmmakers Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet, under the moniker ‘Radio Silence’, pretty much take a lit cigarette to a stream of gasoline and watch the ensuing madness. It’s 90 minutes of absurdist, borderline surreal horror/comedy, featuring what I can only describe as a legitimate star-making performance by Samara Weaving. Seriously, a fucking star is born. She’s THAT good: radiant, charming, witty, vicious, unhinged, and a complete mood from start to finish.
This is as funny a movie as any of this year’s comedies, and as nasty as any of this year’s bloodiest horror. Somehow it works because from the beginning, the movie is tonally balanced between an absurd comedy of manners and a Texas-Chainsaw-style blood bath. Essentially set in one location – the bride’s in-laws’ massive gothic mansion – the events unfold relentlessly and with pure heedless joy from one jaw-dropping comic/horror mishap to another. You can practically see Radio Silence grinning from behind their cameras. The sense of urgency, confidence, and exhilaration from the cast and crew is infectious.
There is some clever commentary aimed at the one percent, with the film suggesting that the source of the family’s wealth is a bargain that must require sacrifice from the less fortunate. The satire isn’t subtle, but this is a movie that balks at the idea of subtlety. The climactic ending is so over-the-top, so gleefully absurd, so maniacally ingenious, it has to be seen to be believed. And Weaving’s performance, all the way until the final shot, is a masterclass. If award shows weren’t so pretentious and hated horror AND comedy, Weaving would absolutely be in the discussion. Seriously. The last shot of the film, featuring Weaving’s blood-splattered bride smoking a cigarette on the steps of the burning mansion is as sensational as the final images of Ari Aster’s Midsommar, but with a completely different tone. I was grinning from ear to ear by the time the credits rolled.
PS – I’d like to shoutout Andie MacDowell, an actress I’ve always liked, who really gets a chance to shine in this movie. As the family’s matriarch, she is intimidating but also likable; offering a formidable presence of shark-like intensity, and in other moments, genuine maternal emotion. Every performance in Ready or Not ultimately is great enough to perfectly serve the material, but it’s Weaving and MacDowell who provide the heart and soul of this delightfully nihilistic and sensationally entertaining thriller.
PPS – Radio Silence is the other star born from this movie. They direct with the rapturous, invigorating energy of young filmmakers, but with the confidence and streamlined efficiency of seasoned pros. I can’t wait to see what they do next.
47 Meters Down: Uncaged
This is probably going to be a short review because ’47 Meters Down: Uncaged’ is a short movie with little ambition. That sounds like a negative, but in this case, I admired the craftsmanship in service of pure, economical simplicity. Johannes Roberts’ sequel to his 2017 surprise hit is as pure a thriller as you can get, and it’s actually an improvement over its predecessor.
If you recall, the first movie featured a final fifteen minutes that turned out to be a hallucination due to lack of oxygen by Mandy Moore’s character. To put it bluntly, I hate that shit. It’s one of the biggest cop-outs you can deliver; about one step up from ‘it was all a dream!’ That ending essentially sabotaged what was actually a pretty fun, pretty scary little movie up until that point.
‘Uncaged’ works just as well, if not better than the first movie and THEN – thank goodness – doesn’t cop out with a false ending. Yes, this movie is ludicrous. No, scuba diving doesn’t work like this. No, sharks do not act like this. Yes, the idiot plot is essential to driving the movie forward. Yes, the dialogue and human drama is tin-eared and transparent. None of this matters because Roberts is committed to one thing and one thing only: scaring the shit out of you. And for the most part, he succeeds.
The sharks in this movie are blind and ghostly white, using sound and movement to attack their prey. This is because, as we are informed by the designated smart girl (thus, the final girl), the sharks have evolved to their surrounds and must have been released while her dad and his archeologist colleagues discovered a sunken underwater Mayan sacrificial chamber. Naturally, a group of pretty, care-free teenage girls plus designated smart, nerdy girl (also pretty, but you know… Hollywood) decide to dive down and check out the ruins really quick. “Just to the first cave”, as one of our characters suggests. Yeah, we’ll see how that works out.
It isn’t too long before our group is trapped underwater in the caves because of a series of unfortunate events started by a screaming fish. No, I’m not joking. Yes, it’s as silly as it sounds. Fortunately, Roberts is a confident filmmaker who knows how silly this all is and has A LOT of tricks still up his sleeve. Basically, it isn’t long before the girls find out that they’re not only trapped in underwater caves with dwindling oxygen, but there are sharks down there too. And like I mentioned, not just sharks, but blind albino sharks that stalk their prey like Michael Myers on fucking steroids. Roberts himself has even described his sharks as Myers-like, with their pale white faces, filmed deliciously in shadow and murky water.
‘Uncaged’ works despite all of this inherent silliness and despite my own film-critic pretension because Roberts treats the material like a slasher film and not an accurate survival against nature thriller. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re going to see a realistic or logical drama. This is Halloween or Friday the 13th underwater. And yes, it scared me. It’ll scare you too if you’re willing to let it.
Mark Silk’s cinematography is eerily effective, capturing the claustrophobic murkiness of the surroundings and using the lights of flares, flashlights, and blinking emergency signals to create solid tension. Musical duo Tomandandy, who have practically created their own little cottage industry of scoring horror films with visceral pulsating synth sounds, also cannot be understated for their involvement. Their score, as well as the impeccable sound design in general, encapsulates the race-against-time dread of the situation as well as the relentless nature of the sharks.
Alright, so clearly this review was a bit longer than I had initially mentioned when I started writing. But that kind of perfectly describes the experience of watching the movie as well. You think you’re done with it, you think there can’t possibly be much more to enjoy in the sub-genre of killer shark movies, but then it sucks you in. The movie employs Murphy’s Law – anything that can go wrong will go wrong – to its absolute breaking point. By the time the film reaches a crucial sequence where our remaining characters have to take a deep breath before taking off their masks and swimming to the surface, I found myself holding my breath as well. And so, reader, the movie hooked me. Roberts throws all the juicy chum he can into the waters of B-horror and like a Michael-Myers-esque albino shark, I ate it the fuck up.