This has a certain zeitgeisty aspect – it combines the deadly trap/game theme of Escape Room with the grasping rich folks murderousness of You’re Next – but also tries for a pleasantly old-fashioned, Charles Addamsish gingerbread gothic feel. At one point, one of the feckless, inept, privileged folks taking party in a killer game googles ‘deal with the Devil bullshit or not?’ and there’s a neatly contrived Sins of the Father Faustian bargain behind the old dark house horrors.
Grace (Samara Weaving), an orphan of humble background, marries Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), scion of a wealthy family who owe their status to a bargain made with a mysterious Mr Le Baile during the American Civil War and whose business is the manufacture of games and novelties (with lovely pastiche period designs). The wedding night is interrupted – by an alarming aunt (Nicky Guadagni) who looms out of a secret passage – when Grace has to take part in a ritual which is always performed when someone is accepted into the family. A puzzle box spits out a card that decrees the game to be played, and she goes along with the silly notion of Hide and Seek, dragging her bridal train along as she tries to tuck into a dumb waiter, only to pick up quickly that the rest of the family have armed themselves with lethal weapons (albeit of the period when the deal was made) and are obliged to kill her before dawn or forfeit the diabolical gains made over the years.
Of course, the heroine shows a certain streak of self-preserving grit, but much of the humour comes from the fact that the heirs – who include a weak-chinned patriarch (Henry Czerny), his ‘Southern gal’ wife (Andie MacDowell), a dissolute brother (Adam Brody), his gold-digging wife (Elyse Levesque), a bungling sister (Emilie Scrofano) and her useless husband (Kristian Bruun) – are mostly fourth or fifth-generation rich without the toughness of their forebears. A running joke has the Le Domas clan ineptly murdering servants by mistake, while the real job of tracking down the bride falls to the butler (John Ralston). It’s another in the recent spate of ‘Satanic conspiracy’ movies, and the family get into robes and chant for a sacrifice sequence – but the emphasis is on a kind of black humour that aligns it more with the old dark house school of horror comedy in which a family of eccentrics are killed off one by one. There’s even a trace of Kind Hearts and Coronets, albeit with much more explicit gore.
The throwback nature of the film means it seems to take place in a kind of temporal limbo – with mobile phones and lockdown home defence (and one terrific gag about an insanely unhelpful remote car security feature) but many other elements that would work in a 1940s movie. Weaving, who was fun in The Babysitter and Mayhem, gets a star turn as the by-no-means naïve heroine – and an interesting mix of familiar character faces (plus a fun bit for MacDowell) are set against her. O’Brien and Brody get a bit more dramatic meat than the just-plain-mean baddies – as both brothers sympathise to an extent with Grace, but still got her involved in this … and there’s an unsettling character turn as the bridegroom, who has gone against his kill-crazy clan to help Grace, realises that even if she survives the night that – after being shot by a kid and tipped into a corpse-filled goat pit – she won’t stick with him. The spectral M le Baile has a brief, hilarious appearance and there’s a relishably splattery ‘come the dawn’ moment as a contract expires.
Scripted by Ryan Murphy and Guy Busick, and directed – in a major step up from Devil’s Due – by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. Seemingly the sort of thing that you’d expect from Blumhouse, it’s an unusual outing for the major studio boutique label Fox Searchlight and you should make an effort to catch it on its theatrical window since it’s among the raft of interesting works likely to get shuffled away in Disney’s recent engulf and devour merger with Fox.