The conventional wisdom around Ready or Not is that it's a lacerating satire of vicious, hapless rich people, a smart commentary on the depravities of the 1%, a Film For Right Now. And okay, sure. It can do that if you want it to. I don't think it does it particularly well, or with anything that's even slightly insightful or fresh, but it is present within the film, right near the surface. If that's what gets the film a nice red Rotten Tomatoes score and a few more eyes on it, that's more than good enough for me, because Ready or Not is a huge delight, one of the few movies released in the summer of 2019 that actually has the goods as a romping popcorn flick. It would give me enormous pleasure if it picked up an enthusiastic cult following - which seems, commercially, like the best-case scenario at this point.

The film is something of a riff on the Agatha Christie-style And Then There Were None model: there's a rambling old mansion that's simply crawling with secret passageway, and in this mansion are several daft rich people. Only, instead of them being picked off one at a time by an unseen killer, they're all focused on murdering one individual, who manages to survive through a bit of cunning and a lot of idiocy on the part of her pursuers. But before we get to that point, there's the matter of the first act to consider, and it is such a good one. There is absolutely no chance that the screenplay by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy (not the famous one from TV) will be decked out in awards or such, but it's really quite a beauty of tidy, efficient construction, especially in its exposition. After a de rigueur opening that gives us a sneak peak at what's to come by showing how it happened 30 years ago, the film quickly and nimbly gives us all of the important pieces: Grace (Samara Weaving) has no family to speak of, and she's very happy to thus be marrying into one, the fabulously wealthy Le Domas clan, who made their money manufacturing board games. That being said, her brand-new husband Alex (Mark O'Brien) isn't much into the trappings of the family lifestyle; in fact, he seems to have almost completely extracted himself from their grasp, much to the anguish of his mother Becky (Andie MacDowell). This is probably because of the time he watched them kill a man, in the prologue scene.

That hangs over the opening, naturally enough: Alex is obviously uncomfortable with something, with Grace noticing but not quite finding it troubling enough to press him on it. The extended family - Alex's mom, father Tony (Henry Czerny), brother Daniel (Adam Brody), Daniel's wife Charity (Elyse Levesque), aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni), Emilie (Melanie Scrofano), who I take to be a cousin, and her husband Fitch (Kristian Bruun) - are all overtly weird, but mostly just in the way that the fabulously wealthy can get away with being weird, as far as Grace knows. That "as far as" is doing plenty of work, because of course we know much more than she does, and Ready or Not does wonderful work in letting us feel helplessly omniscient. The prologue does some of that, of course, but so does the film's wild, weird color grading, which presents the daylight in the film's first few scenes as horribly over-real and too sharp, before night falls, and it shifts into this wholly bizarre mixture of heavy golden yellow highlights and midtones, with the shadows being pushed more towards a sick greenish-teal. It feels irreconcilably unnatural, giving the entire film the tang of metal that has begun to corrode and oxidize. Which is a pretty concise visual metaphor for a family that has had immodest wealth for so long that it's more or less forgotten about it, and is letting a fortune rot in the shadows.*

Anyway, my point was: we know more than Grace, and we feel the grotesqueness of the house that she seems to regard as merely fabulously ornate and quirky, and this is the very stuff of good suspenseful storytelling. So when she's obliged to take part in the family's odd ritual of playing a game at exactly midnight the night of weddings, we have a good idea that the game will go terribly; this is confirmed when she pulls a card marked "hide and seek" from an old puzzle box, and every member of the family, who has spent the whole afternoon excitedly welcoming her into the fold, collapses into an expression of disappointed misery. Turns out that of all the games in that puzzle box, hide and seek is the only one that's bad: it involves finding and capturing the newest member of the family and sacrificing her for the pleasure of Mr. Le Bail, the Old Scratch-esque figure who appears prominently in the Le Domas mythology of where they got their wealth from in the first place.

Having laid out all the pieces so crisply in the first act, Ready or Not gets to indulge itself in knocking them all down for the remainder of its delectably snug running time. The reason I'm dubious about calling this satire is that it doesn't have the sharp edge for it, give or take the odd line of dialogue; this is much more like the gleeful anarchy of a Tex Avery cartoon with Grace dragged in as the unwilling Screwy Squirrel to the Le Domases' dipshit hunting dog. It's a cross between slapstick comedy and '80s slasher movie, using its extremely persuasive gore effects as the punchlines to gags more than anything; this is even true of the single most harrowing, grotesque effect in the film, involving the extremely strategic use of a gunshot wound through the palm of somebody's hand. It's not always a "funny" movie, but it's even less a "scary" one; it shares the great strength of this summer's other great horror-thrillers (and that has really been the story of summer 2019, hasn't it? Almost non-stop disappointment and drudgery, with a few horror movies coming around to perk things up and remind us that movies can actually be good and fun), in that it takes the genre seriously enough not to mock it, but also understands the appeal of genre is its absurdity and ridiculousness. I'm tempted to say that Ready or Not is a horror-comedy, but it's almost more like an antihorror-anticomedy; it's all too deadpan and drily comic to be an actual thriller, but too grisly and upsetting, with Weaving (who is fantastic and I hope we get to hear a lot more from her in the future) looking constantly strained and terrified for it to be actually funny, except in a biting, sarcastic way. At the very least, any movie that has the central conceit of its costume design that Grace's wedding dress gets more saturated in rusty red blood as the film progresses and she is wounded in more different places clearly isn't one that is looking for big warm chuckles.

Whatever we want to call it, though, Ready or Not is a great treat, winding up its scenario tight before letting it bounce into action without slowing down or pausing. The uniformly strong cast of killers (in a pinch, I'd say that Brody, MacDowell, and Scrofano are the first among equals) brings a perfect tone of earnest desperation that makes them seem pathetic without becoming non-threatening, and Weaving's steady march from giddy bride to panicked animal to taciturn badass to her absolutely tremendous "screw it, I'm too tired for this shit" energy in the film's last two scenes (including the best delivery of the word "fuck" in recent memory) provides a strong emotional hook that allows the movie to be more than just a well-oiled machine. It's a great deal of manic fun, and it's honestly kind of the perfect version of what it is; a frolicsome thriller in an impeccable-designed big old house, a fun game of gross-out, and a fun piss-take on the whole "Cinderella marrying into the royal family" idea. It's nasty, it's sickly beautiful, it's got energy to spare, and it has a terrific star-in-the-offing turn from Samara Weaving; it's definitely not the "best" film of the summer, but the more time I spend with it, the more I wonder if it's the one where I had the most fun.

*The green-yellow palette also reminds me of the feeling I get whenever Poe or Lovecraft describes an extremely old space as streaked with nitre, though I have no idea what nitre actually looks like.