In ‘Guns Akimbo,’ Daniel Radcliffe Discovers That EVERYTHING’S Gone Akimbo

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CREDIT: Saban Films

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Ned Dennehy, Rhys Darby

Director: Jason Lei Howden

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: R for Big Booming, Bloody Effective Gunfire and An Awkward Attempt to Use the Toilet

Release Date: February 28, 2020 (Limited)

If some goons bolted a couple of huge black pistols to your hands and then forced you to fight in a live-streaming death match, what would you do? That’s the setup for writer-director Jason Lei Howden’s thought experiment/action bonanza Guns Akimbo. Presumably, for many of us, the answer to this question would be what happened to Daniel Radcliffe’s video game developer character Miles, which is to say: run around in a panic, get really stinky while struggling to put on pants and go to the bathroom, and maybe survive for a little while by relying on instinct and adrenaline. What is perhaps less likely is where Miles ultimately ends up, which is summoning all he’s got to turn the tables on the freaks running this game. Maybe most people in this predicament would wind up dying within five minutes, but that’s why this story isn’t about them.

With movies about these sorts of illicit underground sensations, I always wonder about the larger context. Is the rest of the world just carrying on normally, or this some sort of dystopia, or maybe a mini-dystopia in a town that can’t think of anything better to do than have its citizens kill each other? The game in Guns Akimbo takes place wherever its players go, so there is a vibe of massive violence occurring in plain sight. Actually, it’s not a vibe so much as an actuality. To wit, when Miles goes to his office to get one of his co-workers to help him out with something, there ends up being a massacre with plenty of collateral damage. There’s not a whole lot of context-setting, but I think we get just enough to understand that the deadly consequences are unpredictable and indiscriminate, though only a small percentage of the world is obsessed with the carnage.

Keeping Miles on his toes is his opponent Nix, played by Samara Weaving in a profoundly disaffected style that’s miles away from her wonderfully hysterical work in Ready or Not. She’s got herself constantly numbed by drugs, all the better to keep herself focused on blasting away any comers with panache and to not be overcome by the emotional scars of her tragic backstory. Eventually, she and Miles realize they have more in common than they thought, and that leads to a fairly satisfying climax. But really, the main attraction is seeing how Miles figures out how to do fairly simple tasks with huge pieces of metal blocking his hands. At one point, a homeless man played by Rhys Darby offers him a hot dog but refuses to slip it into his mouth, and you can never know how cruel that is until you see it. How Miles was not constantly fainting from the pain, we may never know. The human body’s fight to survive can be quite resilient.

Guns Akimbo is Recommended If You Like: Embracing that scuzzball lifestyle

Grade: 3 out of 5 Handguns

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