Ready or Not. 2019. Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett. Screenplay by Guy Busick & R. Christopher Murphy.
Starring Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Melanie Scrofano, Kristian Bruun, Elyse Levesque, Nicky Guadagni, & John Ralston.
Fox Searchlight Pictures / Mythology Entertainment / Vinson Films
Rated R / 95 minutes
Action / Comedy / Horror / Mystery / Thriller
★★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)
Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin have directed a bunch of stuff, both together and apart. It’s hard to deny they work best together, because what they’ve done as a pair (credited as Radio Silence) is phenomenal. Their segment from the original V/H/S—”10/31/98″—was a weird, wild little short, and the two segments they did for Southbound were even better, like contemporary episodes of The Twilight Zone. They’ve also proved to do well with feature length films. Devil’s Due might not get a whole lot of love but it’s fairly effective and definitely creepy. Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin truly showed off their chops with Ready or Not, a genre mashup of dark satire with action and horror about one woman’s violent struggle upon marrying into the bourgeois patriarchy.
Grace (Samara Weaving) and Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien) are getting married. Alex’s family are a bunch of rich snobs. Worse than that, the Le Domas family once made a deal with a mysterious man called Le Bail. In exchange for wealth the family must observe a tradition: each new member draws a game card from Le Bail’s puzzle box. On the big wedding night, Grace draws a Hide-and-Seek card. So the new bride goes to hide. What she doesn’t realise is the family are busy arming themselves with weapons. Alex reveals there’s a curse on their family, and if they don’t win the game, they’ll die at sunrise. That means Grace will die, unless she can find a way to survive until dawn.
Ready or Not portrays the bourgeois’s excessive wealth as a Satanic pact. The La Domas family make their pact with Mr. Le Bail, whose name works as an anagram for Belial. The name Belial originated in the Hebrew Bible, later becoming synonymous with Satan in other Jewish and Christian texts. So, the La Domas family made a deal with the Devil in order to keep their bourgeois wealth intact, at the cost of human sacrifice. The way Alex’s father is perceived, as someone who’s “richer than God,” even signifies a kind of devilish quality in him, imbued by the wealth of Lucifer himself.
Daniel (Adam Brody) asks if the help count after they murder a maid, and another of the family’s servants is killed later by a bougie dumbwaiter. The message in the symbolism regarding the killed off servants is that to the La Domas family, and the bourgeois class in general, the proletariat are expendable. While “One of us” is an oft repeated phrase by the La Domas family, and the family have no problem murdering anybody not of their social class, Grace shows her own connections to the working class rather than the bourgeoisie. Like when Grace chooses not to kill the butler, only choking him unconscious, showing class solidarity even if he doesn’t offer her the same courtesy as he tries to murder her for his boss. While Grace does kill the one servant with the dumbwaiter it isn’t her fault, and she tried to help the woman, even if she was nearly caught because of her.
The family name La Domas speaks to the patriarchal control under which the family operates. The word ‘domas’ is Spanish, meaning to conquer or to bring under control. Alex, in spite of appearing early on like he’s going to save his new wife from her impending doom, plays a patriarchal role by leading Grace into the lion’s den of his psychopath family, knowing the the potential chances of horror which lay ahead for her.
One great scene shows Grace not just as prey for the bourgeois class and the patriarchy, but as an animal. She’s captured and taken back to the mansion, then wakes up surrounded by taxidermy animals, all the trophies of the La Domas family, and a portrait of the family patriarch in his game hunting gear. Grace is portrayed as a literal trophy wife in the most bestial sense, prepared to be mounted.
Ready or Not is ultimately about Grace escaping from and breaking with tradition, specifically the heteronormative tradition of marriage and all that comes with it. A great moment of symbolism is when Grace smashes patriarchal traditions is the scene during which she alters her wedding dress as she’s trying to survive the family game. Grace tears off a piece of her dress to make it more utilitarian, for her ass-kicking spree; an excellent, literal image of a bride ripping up tradition. She continues to break the wedding dress’s patriarchal symbolism by using a piece to bandage her hand later. She also replaces her high heels with sneakers, eschewing patriarchal footwear for something practical instead. Finally, when Grace escapes the La Domas mansion she symbolically runs back up through the aisle, reversing her trajectory as bride being walked down the aisle, obliterating and negating the traditional wedding ritual.
“You don’t respect tradition!”
There are so many elements to love in Ready or Not, from the dark comedy satire to the outrageous horror, especially the shocking final moments of the La Domas clan. Mark O’Brien, a fellow Newfoundlander & Labradorian, gives a great performance here. It’s lovely to see someone from my home province do big, awesome things. The whole cast is excellent. Samara Weaving is clearly the film’s MVP, giving off a ton of emotion and a bunch of laughs, leaving us with an action-horror heroine for the ages and one of the best snort laughs in cinema history.
Grace becomes an almost Christlike figure, representing the sacrifices of the lower classes for the sins of the bourgeoisie, when she has a hole shot through her palm and then sinks a nail into it. She’s also a woman nearly made into a martyr by the patriarchy. She’s a bride used in a sacrificial ritual, giving literal life to the metaphoric misogyny inherent in the traditional heteronormative wedding ceremony, and the family’s trying to use her to fuel bourgeois economics. It’s fitting the end of Ready or Not features the La Domas family mansion burning and Grace escaping, watching her would-be in-laws’ bourgeois, patriarchal empire burn. Better yet, Grace never has to upset her stomach by eating the rich, because they explode all on their own from their murderous greed.