What goes on behind the scenes of society’s elite? Do they know something that we don’t? Do the lives of the bourgeoisie truly differ that much from ours down below in the suffering, snivelling proletariat? Earlier this year, director David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake took some of these same questions and wrung them out, twisting them into a scathing caricature of the upper class, the entertainment industry’s treatment of women, and our desire to find explanations for things we will truly never have the answers to. In the end, through the eyes of Andrew Garfield’s character, Sam, you merely catch a glimpse into the derangement and delusion vast amounts of wealth and access can grant you, before Sam is made to swear he won’t tell of what he saw, and returns to his simple life of sleeping around and evading rent payments.
Ready or Not (from duo directing team Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett) takes these questions surrounding the elusive lives of the upper class and turns them into (almost) complete farce – in a film intent on entertaining you with crossbows through heads and crushed torsos as much as with the absurdity of how money can truly fry your brain. In the end, the only thing lurking behind the shadows of wealth and privilege is incompetence, greed, and, quite literally, pure evil. And while there is, however, quite a bit missing from the film’s willingness to dial up the absurdity of the situation; to give in to the necessary amount of camp to make the film feel as fun and bonkers as this unbelievable situation calls for, Ready or Not is a bloody romp that hates rich people just as much as you do.
Grace (Samara Weaving) is a woman who grew up in and out of foster homes, seeking a permanent family in the one she’s about to be married into: the towering, formidable Le Domas “gaming dominion,” as her fiancé Alex kindly clarifies for her. But Alex has been hiding a secret from Grace, a secret about the Le Domas’ that threatens both their marriage and his relationship with his family – which is shown to already be a tenuous one at best. The Le Domas’ made their fortune in recreation and board games, after patriarch Tony’s (Mark O’Brien) great-grandfather made a deal with a mysterious benefactor named Mr. Le Bail. Mr. Le Bail established for the Le Domas family the everlasting tradition of playing a game at midnight after every wedding. A blank card is placed into an inconspicuous box, and when the card is spat back out, the game to be played will be written upon it. The only bad card that can possibly be chosen is Hide and Seek – the card that Grace inevitably chooses.
If any other game had been written upon that card, the only thing to be done would’ve been to play it. Hide and Seek means that the Le Domas family must find Grace before dawn and offer her as a sacrifice to appease Mr. Le Bail and save their own skins. So, while Grace goes off to find the perfect hiding spot, the rest of the Le Domas family arms themselves with weapons from the early twentieth century (one of whom, to his own bemusement, is handed a crossbow, which he then earnestly attempts to figure out how to use by watching YouTube videos in the bathroom). But Grace proves herself to be more of a steadfast force than the Le Domas family realised, and the road to dawn becomes much longer and arduous than any of them expected from a foster girl.
The Le Domas family is a mismatched assortment of high-strung, self-important brats. Daughter Emilie (Melanie Scrofano) is a coked-out airhead, son Daniel (Adam Brody) is a snarky alcoholic. These two siblings’ respective partners, Fitch (Kristian Bruun) and Charity (Elyse Levesque) are equally narcissistic assholes, Charity leaning more heavily towards anti-social psychopath, Fitch towards apathetic ignoramus. Tony is a man of tradition and taste, and is skeptical of Grace’s ability to assimilate to their family, while wife Becky (Andie MacDowell), empathises with Grace’s fish-out-of-water sentiments, and makes her feel more welcome to her intimidating new home. Meanwhile, suspicious Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni) does little more than lurk menacingly in the background while looking like a real-life cartoon villain.
The film has little more to offer in terms of subtext than “rich people have brain worms, in-laws are terrible,” two things that, as a person who was once in a long-term relationship with a guy from a wealthy family, I can confirm are extremely true. But it’s still fun to watch rich people get their confounded, money-addled asses absolutely handed to them by a girl in a ripped-up wedding dress and Converse. Speaking of whom, it’s basically resounding sentiment at this point, but Samara Weaving is an acting champ. She believably screams, shrieks, and snarks her way through a movie that sends her through a metaphorical and also sort of literal, meat grinder. Weaving is a tried and true Final Girl for the modern horror age that future slasher flicks should be frothing at the mouth for. She’s girl-next-door gorgeous with big bushy eyebrows and chameleon-like expressiveness other actors could only dream of attaining.
Ready or Not’s biggest failing, however, is that it wants us to take all of this seriously. Well, maybe not exactly – but it certainly wants its characters to, and that’s what throws everything in the film slightly off its axis. Despite the black humour and sparse amounts of gore, there is no sense that the film sees itself for the camp extravaganza that it should be. There should be a gory montage sequence set to a terrible rock song; there should be blood spurting out of orifices every five seconds; the haughty patriarch Tony, played quite slimily by the skin-crawling father from Sharp Objects, should be slinging cheesy one-liners like they’re pizza dough. It’s a film about a family of cartoon characters who made a dynasty from board games and who have to offer up a human sacrifice every now and then by playing Hide and Seek, yet every character in the film is made to treat the subject material like it’s quite literally life-or-death.
Still, there’s plenty of fun to be had in Ready or Not. It’s the perfect 90-minute run-time, and the final act is bloody and ridiculous enough that it almost makes up for how much the rest of the film isn’t. It’s different and original, and in the current climate of American cinema, sometimes different and original – and also widely-released – is just the straw that you have to go ahead and grasp for whether you want to or not. Ready or Not is far from being a bad film, but its distaste for the upper class and clear desire to be gonzo is so devilishly pointed that you can’t help but be distracted by the potential the film had to be even better.
“It’s true what they say,” Daniel says to Grace at one point. “The rich really are different.” Alex even laments to his mother over his childhood growing up surrounded by the occasional goat sacrifice, and how, one day, he realised that that’s not what normal families do, but that he’d been conditioned to view it as normal. Money really does rot your insides, and makes you view things that would otherwise be seen as unsightly or abnormal as totally commonplace – the idea of which can be gleaned from watching rich people interact with customer service workers, for example. And while the concept of the elite quietly making deals with the devil and hunting the proletariat for blood rituals, though quite outlandish and funny, should be portrayed in the campy way it deserves, Ready or Not still makes for the perfect movie treat with your most hated in-laws.
Ready or Not is out in the USA now and the UK on September 27th
by Brianna Zigler
Brianna Zigler is a graduate in Film-Video and Writing from Penn State University with big plans and not a lot of planning. She loves horror, absurdism, Twin Peaks, is a die-hard Wes Anderson fan, and currently has almost 250 movies in her watchlist. Her favorite films are What We Do in the Shadows, A Serious Man, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Swiss Army Man, and Suspiria. You can follow her on Twitter @briannazigs