Ready or Not destined to be a cult classic

Ready or Not destined to be a cult classic

Samara Weaving in the film READY OR NOT. Photo by Eric Zachanowich. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Ready or Not is a wild, entertaining, and fairly gruesome ride from beginning to end. Take a tight script written by Gary Busick and Ryan Murphy, along with slick direction by Matt Bettinelli-Olphin and Tyler Gillett, add beautiful production design and lighting, a star turn by Samara Weaving and an excellent supporting cast, and you get a film worth going to see. It’s both comedic satire and horror.

In the tradition of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, our hero Grace (Weaving) starts the film as a modern stereotype, a #blessed insta-bride who really does seem to have it all. Stunning in a beautiful white lace wedding dress, sharing comfortable loving banter with the man she is about to marry, Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), the picture perfect setting for their special day the Domas family house… or should that be castle?

Alex is the youngest son of the Le Domas gaming dynasty. And by gaming, I don’t mean poker machines, I mean board games. The Domas’ love a game, particularly on a wedding night when someone new joins the family, a fact which Grace finds charming. That is, until she finds out what the game is, which is well after it has already begun. The thing is, while the Domas family like to play, they also insist on winning this particular game and prefer to keep the rules to themselves, stacking the deck somewhat in their favour. Let the social satire begin.

So 2019 brings another film about horror of rich versus poor. It says a lot about our current era that this has been a common theme, featuring in several widely released films in the last 12 months or so — think Us, Burning and Parasite.

I’ll save the rest for the more in depth spoilery section below, except to say go and see this film because it’s great, and Samara Weaving is a delight to watch at every stage, but be ready for some gore (if you can’t handle it, just cover your eyes like I did. You’ll be fine).

Ready or Not is at cinemas now.

Going deeper… with spoilers

Social satire is certainly the main thrust of the story, and more text than subtext. Not only do her new in-laws try to kill her in the belief that’s the only way to save their significant family fortune, they turn her into a killer as well, along with their household staff. The various nannies and assistants and servants side with the family. Why do they do this when it’s clear the family are murderous psychopaths and the staff don’t have a family fortune at stake? For various reasons it seems, perhaps out of a misguided sense of loyalty, or the desire to keep their job or, for the woman who ends up crushed in the dumb waiter, a cold calculation that throwing her lot in with the family is her best chance. Whatever their reasons the household staff have miscalculated and meet their maker one by one. I doubt O’Brien would be going as out of her way to defend the Crawleys if they started picking off a few plebs at Downton Abbey, but Mr Carson probably would. No-one escapes this family game, and everyone ultimately pays the price in one way or another. Even Grace, the sole survivor, does not end this night unscathed and unchanged.

To the Domas family the deaths of the staff are unfortunate, but ultimately inconsequential. They are mere pawns, as is Grace who they say is ‘not one of us’, despite having just married into the family. Everyone else is insignificant and expendable when it comes to preserving the family fortune. They don’t want to kill, you understand, but to them they see no alternative. This is simply something they have to do to ensure their own survival. No hard feelings, it’s only business is the gist, as they aim their weapons. They all quite like Grace really, but, as matriarch Becky (Andie MacDowell) kindly explains, their hands are tied. This is a tradition dictated by those who came before and that must be carried on — the tradition of being wealthy that is.

The others who have married into the family didn’t have to play this game, but certainly the wife of Alex’s brother Daniel (Adam Brody), the hilariously named Charity (Elyse Levesque), is possibly the most ruthless of them all. She came from nothing and is even less willing to give up what she now has. Fitch (Kristian Bruun), the husband of hopeless drug addicted sister Emilie (Melanie Scrofano) is decidedly less eager,  but he’s willing to do what he has to. He’s one of the family now, so he’ll learn to use a cross-bow, but he’d be happy if someone told him he didn’t have to do this. Not necessarily for any ethical or moral reason, but mostly because it seems a bit over-the-top and requiring a lot of hard work. As it is, he’s just following orders.

There is also have the image of the perfect bride. We don’t know much about the backstory of Grace and Alex, except that Grace comes from more humble beginnings. And even in this day and age, the old (archaic) traditions of wedding days still hold a seemly unshakable place in the zeitgeist, particularly for women. Whole industries exist based on this fact. The idea that the perfect bride, in the perfect white dress as something women should aspire to, still has a firm hold in the culture. And this is exactly how Grace starts out in Ready or Not, ready to meet her destiny and be a bride.

In the opening sequence, Grace looks beautiful, relaxed, ready to wed her sweetheart, laughing with her beau and having a sneaky cigarette out the window before going down the aisle. Through the course of the film the perfect bride slowly gets stripped away. First when she finds out what is really going on and Alex (who is more well-versed in what will go down) insists she puts on shoes – a pair of yellow Converse. The first step away from being the perfect bride. From then on she literally starts to strip away her dress and with it more and more of the bridal fantasy, tearing strips off it to survive. By the end she emerges, her dress now torn away in parts and completely dark red with blood, no longer the bride at all, but now a survivor, a warrior, returned from hell, now unapologetic and not hiding anything, having a cigarette as everything burns. She has no fucks left to give.

I mentioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this film struck straight to the core of my Buffy fangirl heart. It’s a story with a fierce female lead that deliberately messes with social stereotypes and uses horror to comment on social issues and draw an emotional through-line, and is laugh-out-loud funny. There is even other-worldly action in the end. Grace would have fit right in at Sunnydale High.

The sets are stunning in Ready or Not, lushly lit with warm, rich candlelight. Everything is decadent, old, beautiful and slightly unsettling. A classic old-school horror set of the Vincent Price era, a palatial mansion steeped in history and just waiting for bad things to happen. The entire cast, which also includes father Tony played by Henry Czerny, along with the hilariously insane Aunt Becky (Nicky Guadagni), who was the last in the family to have to hunt down her newly wed spouse, are a pleasure to watch. This is a great film from beginning to end, a fun ride but with a serious message not too far under the surface and told in an entertaining way. I think Ready or Not has all the hallmarks of a cult classic, and a much longer life than any of the Domas family.