No Need to Make a Deal with the Devil: Go See ‘Ready or Not’!

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CREDIT: Eric Zachanowich/Twentieth Century Fox

Starring: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Nicky Guadagni, Kristian Bruun, Melanie Scrofano, Elyse Levesque, John Ralston

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: R for Ridiculous and Bloody Violence, Over-the-Top Profanity, and a Few Bumps of Cocaine

Release Date: August 21, 2019

Rich people are so different from the rest of us (HOW DIFFERENT ARE THEY?!) that some of them think it’s perfectly justifiable to hunt other people for fun. Or at least that’s what the 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game” and its many descendants would have us believe. The latest example is Ready or Not, which features the highest-stakes version of hide-and-seek I have ever witnessed. It takes place at the mansion of the Le Domas family, whose black sheep son Alex (Mark O’Brien) has returned home with his new bride Grace (Samara Weaving). The Le Domases made their fortune in the gaming industry, and it is no coincidence that tradition dictates that whenever someone marries into the family, she must play a little game with her in-laws on her wedding night.

As the newbie to all this eccentricity, Grace is of course the hider, which she discovers is quite a frightening position to be in when she learns that everyone is trying to kill her before the sun comes up. This may sound like some sort of twisted sport hunting, but while the Le Domases can be gleeful in their attempted murder, they would rather not have to go through it. And yet they have decided they must, for they believe that something very bad will happen to them if they do not complete the ritual. You see, a few generations ago, when the first Le Domas arrived in America, he made a deal with a strange benefactor who promised – and delivered – great fortune, but with the caveat that his family must perform this wedding night gameplay in perpetuity under penalty of execution. The underlying message is clear: the ultra-rich are prone to some rather offbeat logic to justify their lot in life.

The familial indoctrination on display here is strikingly similar to that of a cult, which has me wondering: is devotion to the principles of the ultra-rich a religious sect unto itself? The religious overtones are certainly there, as the mandatoriness of the lethal hide-and-seek is fashioned as a sort of deal with the devil. But while the Le Domases appear to be allegiant to some sort of dark lord, their loyalty is not all that different than the sort demanded by the God of the Old Testament. While watching Ready or Not, I couldn’t stop thinking of Abraham attempting to sacrifice his son Isaac after God commanded him to do so, with God then rewarding Abraham for his loyalty. Is Alex’s responsibility to kill his new wife just a similar test of faith?

The great satisfaction of Ready or Not is how these weighty issues of generational inheritance fit so seamlessly within the thrills of a relentless and-then-there-were-none-style slasher pic. The performances follow suit. Samara Weaving is like a threatened animal screaming full-bodied howls animated by profound incredulousness, with the survivor’s strength she summons recalling Marilyn Burns in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Sharni Vinson in You’re Next. As the parents and aunt of the groom, Andie MacDowell, Henry Czerny, and Nicky Guadagni are all disturbingly committed to the game, while Adam Brody, as Alex’s brother Daniel, is in eternal negotiations with the legacy he’s inherited. The blood in Ready or Not is disturbing, hilarious, and thought-provoking – what else can you ask for?!

Ready or Not is Recommended If You Like: You’re Next, Clue, The Purge

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Bloody Wedding Dresses

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Only the Brave’ Admirably Portrays an Elite Firefighting Crew

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CREDIT: Richard Foreman/Sony Pictures Entertainment

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2017.

Starring: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Jennifer Connelly

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Running Time: 133 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for the Conflagrations and References to Past Drug Use

Release Date: October 20, 2017

It is a frequently stated and generally accepted claim that mothers have the strength to lift a car when their children are in danger. Perhaps we need a similarly illustrative example for people who are naturally drawn to extreme situations in service of others. How else can we explain how relatively few people become firefighters but those who do must necessarily be dangerously committed? It is a little abstract to put in these terms, as the threat is often not immediate and it can be difficult for the human mind to comprehend the scale of the population that is being protected. There is also the fact that we already can explain firefighters’ ability via hardcore training and acclimation exercises. But the ever-present life-threatening nature of this calling earns it a more intense appraisal.

With that in mind, the best way to watch Only the Brave is by appreciating a group of experts performing their jobs exceptionally well under pressure. The film tells the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite Arizona firefighting crew, and the events leading up to their battle with the Yarnell Hill Fire, one of America’s deadliest wildfires in decades. The two most compelling performances come courtesy of Josh Brolin and Miles Teller. The former is the crew’s head, Eric “Supe” Marsh. We’ve seen his type before: when he isn’t physically out in the forest (which he almost always is), his mind is still there, dreaming about a charging bear drenched in flames. He is the kind of guy whose wife (Jennifer Connelly) must bear hearing clichés like “It’s not easy sharing your man with the fire.” Supe’s characterization comes nowhere reinventing the wheel, but Brolin imbues him with plenty of dignity.

More unique is Teller’s role as Brendan “Donut” McDonough, the crew’s newest recruit, a former addict genuinely trying to improve himself. When introduced, he in no shape to be a firefighter, puking and nearly dehydrating on the first training run. Back home, an ex-girlfriend has just given birth to their daughter, and he is making a genuine effort to earn a place in her life. There are plenty of moments that Brendan could relapse, or abandon his crew, or give up on being a dad. But he always sticks it through, proving his mettle as a man with willpower that is rare and admirable. Dramatic heft is often achieved through fighting past bad decisions, but Only the Brave manages to earn plaudits by continually keeping Brendan on the up-and-up.

Ultimately, I admire the story of Only the Brave more than I enjoy it as a film. Partly, I believe that is due to the narrative’s episodic sensibility, which is an odd choice, considering that it is leading up to a huge climax. Of course, that decision makes a certain sense, in that day-to-day life, no matter how dangerous, is usually unspectacular until the one day that it is unpredictable. This may not be as much of a problem to other viewers, but I do wish the editing had been as compelling as the performances.

Only the Brave is Recommended If You Like: Real Life Bravery

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Fire Bears