We often hear stories about the rich. I’m not talking about your one friend who drives a Mercedes to college. I’m talking about the filthy rich — who have palace sized mansions but live in a tiny bubble. Stories of Sultans who’re frolicking around with 14-year-old girls, stories of those who pay to watch cannibals in action, stories of those who have fetishes so far-out they need specially imported prostitutes to fulfil them. Stories never covered by the mainstream media and because of that become almost mythical.
Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet take this very concept (along with the idea of crazy in-laws) to a whole new level of bonkers. After an unsettling prologue, Ready or Not opens with the genuinely down to earth, witty and orphaned Grace (Samara Weaving) just about to get married to Alex Le Domas (Mark O’ Brien), who hails from old money. At first, the Le Domases appear normal — or at least to the extent a household emitting a certain Adams Family vibes can be. After tying the knot, Grace and Alex head to the room to have sex, only to realise right as Grace is about to take her husband’s pants off, that an aunt has been creepily observing the goings-on from the shadows in the corner. Alex brushes it off as “that family member” who has no boundaries.
Alex then tells Grace that since the Le Domases own one of the biggest gaming empires in the world, it’s a ritual for them to play a game at midnight whenever there’s a new family member. A card with a game written on it is to be drawn from a “special” black box. Alex’s sister-in-law, Charity had to play Snakes & Ladders or something when she just joined the family. A man who married into the family had to participate in a stressful game of chess. So, no biggie. The directors ensure that the air in the room is always peculiar even when things are seemingly ordinary.
Except Grace draws Hide & Seek and suddenly the proverbial noose tightens ever so slightly. Most of the La Domases have an “oh boy, I guess this is really happening” look on their face, some of them seem excited even, but not obvious enough for Grace to notice. Alex’s heartbeat starts to race, but he tries to maintain a poker face. They tell Grace to hide and count to 100.
AND THEN THINGS GET BATSH*T CRAZY!
As Grace hides, we see the La Domases start handing out weapons to each other — crossbows, axes, you name it. Some mumbo jumbo: If the Le Domases don’t kill THE BRIDE before the crack of dawn, they will all perish no thanks to an evil spirit who has given their family wealth for generations. I imagine the writers, Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy watched Meet the Fockers and Get Out back-to-back while high on mushrooms and decided to write Ready or Not.
The killings begin.
Grace has to both register the fact that what she’s witnessing is indeed real and also find a way to escape. It’s a brutal and bloody thrill ride, mostly taking place in one confined location which adds to the feeling of terror. But Ready or Not isn’t meant to be taken seriously. It’s the kind of horror that invites you to scream, squirm, look away and then laugh out loud at the absurdity. Just pay attention to the way the Domases react when the bimbo in the family accidentally shoots the maid in the face (this becomes an excellent running gag). Also, whenever they have to clear a body, they flip a coin to see who lifts the head and who carries the legs.
What’s great is, everybody, from the writers to the directors and the performers are all in on the joke. They know they’re making looney tunes and they play into it. Yet it’s not all comical. Ready or Not never lets go of the feeling of torment and pain so that we never stop rooting for Grace. The contrast of facial reactions between Grace and the La Domases is both funny and terrifying.
Samara Weaving delivers an earnest and charismatic performance, bringing both vulnerability and vigour to Grace. It’s heartbreaking to see her rip her wedding dress to stay alive. She didn’t expect a day that started off so beautifully, with her marrying the man of her dreams and finally having a real family to suddenly take a hard left turn towards the highway of insanity. As the film plays out, the white of her wedding dress slowly turns to red and we don’t just root for her to escape, we root for her to fight back. “F*cking rich people!” she says at one point — a perfect exclamation mark.
At one point a son tells his mother, “you’ll pretty much do anything if your family says it’s okay.” Later, we see a young boy no older than ten also participate in the hunt. It’s an intriguing juxtaposition. Imagine growing up in a family that thinks killing is okay. That becomes your norm. That said, the writers don’t offer enough on these deeper subject matters for us to meticulously dissect on an OR table. So, I don’t want you to mistake Ready or Not for some kind of modern-day classic. Even the directorial efforts, while adequate, could’ve used a little bit more craftsmanship when it comes to building tension (i.e. utilising silence and stillness ala A Quiet Place and Don’t Breathe.) The kills aren’t creative enough to really give gore-junkies wet dreams, either.
That said, this is exactly what gets me excited every time I walk into an indie film (it was produced by Fox Searchlight before the Disney-Fox acquisition). Ready or Not is bonkers, risky and totally uninterested in catering to the mainstream audiences — seriously, the sequence before the last is absolutely WTF in the best possible ways. Here, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett aren’t kept on a leash; they’re free to run wild with their tongues sticking out and creative juices gushing. What we get is a funny, crass (too crass for the losers at LPF), violent, thrilling and an absolutely unorthodox film that is marinated in a barrel of red corn syrup. Keep your kids at home, take two shots and have a blast.