Written by Guy Busick
and R. Christopher Murphy
, and directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin
and Tyler Gillett
, Ready or Not is a horror-comedy and social satire that comically exaggerates the anxieties attendant with marrying into a wealthy family and mocks the insular nature of such families, so obsessed with their wealth that they've become disconnected from the real world. In the tradition of Richard Connell
's 1924 short story, "The Most Dangerous Game", the film is about elites hunting common folk, but it tells its story with tongue firmly in cheek. And whilst it can be a tad episodic at times, and the manner in which it presents some of its violence is somewhat problematic, this is a very enjoyable and funny film that's well worth checking out.
It is the wedding day of Grace (an exceptional Samara Weaving
) and Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien
), whose family earned their fortune making board games, and are now decadently wealthy. Several years previously, Alex turned his back on the family, and it's only since he met Grace (a foster child eager to have a family to call her own) that he has started to rebuild bridges. His mother Becky (Andie MacDowell
) and father Tony (a barely sane Henry Czerny
) are thrilled to have him back, and credit Grace with his return. His aunt Helene (a hilariously acerbic Nicky Guadagni
), however, makes no bones about the fact that she hates Grace. Elsewhere there's Alex's brother Daniel (Adam Brody
), an alcoholic locked in a loveless marriage to Charity (Elyse Levesque
), and their cocaine-addicted sister Emilie (a wonderfully hapless Melanie Scrofano
) and her husband Fitch (a scene-stealing Kristian Bruun
). Shortly after the ceremony, Alex explains a strange family tradition to Grace - whenever someone new marries into the clan, they must participate in a game, chosen at random by a mechanised box using a deck of cards (Charity gor checkers). At an austere ceremony, Grace is asked to operate the box and she receives the hide and seek card, with Tony explaining that the only way for her to win is to stay hidden until dawn. And so, Grace hides in the mansion, unaware that the family (sans Alex) are arming themselves with crossbows, axes, hunting rifles, and assorted antique weaponry.
The film's various psychoanalytical/satirical subtexts are fairly obvious - a lampooning of blue blood families clueless as to how the real world works, a savage deconstruction of the institution of marriage, and a gynocentric celebration of a woman fighting back against old-world patriarchy. In relation to these last two themes, nowhere are they more apparent than in Grace's wedding dress, that most classic symbol of marriage, which becomes dirtier and more damaged as the film progresses, with costume designer Avery Plewes
using the dress to show the stages of Grace's symbolic deconstruction of the institution of marriage (to survive the night, she must make the dress more conducive to running and hiding, which involves a lot of ripping and tearing).
Concerning the film's engagement with wealth, essentially it suggests that, yes, as we all know, the rich are very different from you and I, but could it be that not only are they different, maybe they're actually evil? Of course, it's not suggesting this with anything even approaching realism, and much of the film's humour comes from the Le Domas family itself; they're wealthy, evil, violent, and powerful, but so too are they hilariously incompetent. For example, it's been so long since anyone has got the hide and seek card that everyone is a little fuzzy on the rules, and they spend a good chunk of the film arguing with one another about the hunt - Fitch and Charity want to use modern weapons, but Tony maintains they have to use antique weaponry, nor are they allowed to use the castle's security cameras to track Grace.
This all goes back to a century-old deal made between the family's original patriarch Victor and a mysterious traveller named Mr Le Bail, who promised Victor that the family would become hugely wealthy, but only if they maintained the tradition of having new family members play a game on their wedding night, laying out the rules for what was to happen if they got the hide and seek card. Tony argues that the rules can be no different from those originally established by Le Bail, but, really, his argument never amounts to much more than "tradition...reasons". The film gets a lot of laughs out of showing characters trying to get to grips with their weapon - from Fitch taking time out from the hunt to look up "how to use a crossbow" videos on YouTube to Emilie accidentally dispatching several maids due to her inability to handle her weapon.
Another theme, although one not developed to the extent of the above, is religion. Le Bail, for example, is believed by the family to be a demonic figure, and his name, obviously enough, is an anagram of Belial, the demon from the Tanakh who would later form the basis for the Christian and Jewish depictions of Satan. On the other hand, Grace's name most likely references the idea of Divine grace. Elsewhere, the film depicts a pit of slaughtered goats, alluding to ritual animal sacrifice, a pre-Christian practice. Goats are also important in Christianity, especially in the practice of scapegoating, whereby a goat takes upon it the sins of the community and is cast into the desert, symbolically removing the taint of those sins (as per Leviticus 16:8-10). Along the same lines, Grace injures her hand on a nail, in a veiled reference to the Stigmata. However, whether or not we're supposed to interpret her as a Christ figure is hard to say as, although these references are interesting in isolation, they never really coalesce into anything concrete.
Looking at some other problems, the film is, generally speaking, very slight; it's short and it's silly, and it's not going to change your life or lead you down the road of esoteric revolution. The violence is also (somewhat) problematic. The film maintains the stance that the rich are insane and the violence they mete out is contemptible. However, some of the biggest laughs are reserved for Emilie's accidental killing of the maids. And I have to admit, I found the way she haplessly dispatches two of them exceptionally funny. Also funny is that after one of the kills, the family are trying to have a conversation, which is continually interrupted by the gurgling of a mortally wounded maid; until Helene takes an axe to her head. And again, I have to admit, I laughed a lot at that scene, even though I recognised that the film was essentially asking the audience to see this violence as funny but some of the violence elsewhere as not so much. In this sense, it kind of wants to have its cake and eat it, picking and choosing when the audience should laugh; it takes Grace's stakes seriously but also encourages us to laugh at some (and only some) of the violence elsewhere, which is problematically inconsistent.
Nevertheless, as I said, these scenes did make me laugh, so make of that what you will. Although Ready or Not is slight, its satirical ire is focused, even if the tendency towards irreverence doesn't always chime with the tone of the socio-political agenda. Allegorically skewering inherited wealth, marriage, tradition, even religion, the film suggest that with their atavistic rules and sense of entitlement, the Le Domas family embody the concept that old-money can lead to insularity from modernity. Offering us a match, the film suggests that perhaps the only way to deal with such irrelevancies and their sense of self-importance is to burn them to the ground. And it has a blast showing us why.