dirs.: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet
Ready or Not isn’t deep, or profound, it’s not particularly scary or horrific or dramatically credible or in any way sensible. It’s a grotesque and macabre comedy masquerading as horror, with a sliver of class warfare at play, and it was exactly what I needed to see on a slow, cold, Thursday night.
Thursday nights are when I allow myself to have a modicum of medicinal alcohol, but not too much, because there’s work the next day, after five days of abstaining. No, please, hold your applause, I’m a humble wretch just like the rest of you, please, cease plans for the parade in my honour. My point is that on these particular Thursday nights, I’ll invariable enjoy a tipple, and invariably watch a somewhat trashy movie but be far more forgiving than, let’s say, a Sunday night. Sunday nights are for punishing Eastern European epics that make you wish the Black Plague had wiped out all life centuries ago, mostly because you have to work the next day, partly because you might be hungover from Saturday’s wretched excesses.
No, last night was the perfect time to watch this. A brave young woman (Samara Weaving) with very distinctive eyebrows is about to marry into a mega wealthy family. Not just comfortable, or rich, more like Queen of Versailles-levels of excess and Olympian remove from the concerns of general humanity. She has no idea what she’s getting in to. And nor should we, even as the film opens with a bunch of people in masks killing a guy in front of some kids.
Thirty years later is this massive wedding / undertaking, and the ominous promise that there is a game that is to be played at midnight. This is very unrealistic, unless extremely rich people are genuinely as different from the rest of humanity as they are depicted here. No-one except the staff are sober at midnight after a wedding, and usually the bride and groom have other matters to discuss in the sanctity of their marital boudoir.
This family, the Le Domases, have a central origin story to their wealth. Like Balzac said, behind every great fortune is a crime, but in this family’s case, there is a belief, or a pact, if you will, with some weird guy called Le Bail, in that the family occasionally has to sacrifice people in order to stay alive and mega-wealthy.
Sure, it seems absurd written down like that, but when you hear billionaires in our present reality urging people back to work in coronavirus times in order to safeguard their profits, and to hell with the lives of the impoverished scum, you realise “well, it’s not really that different from how capitalism works anyway.”
The family itself doesn’t make its money solely from exploiting poor people directly or abusing turtles or anything, though I’m sure it wouldn’t trouble them too much: the family fortune is in games, like board games and such. The Le Domases are like the Parker Brothers – Milton Bradley – every other board game company that you can think of that is also now owned by Hasbro of the movie’s world, incredibly successful, but none of the family members themselves seem to actually work. Although, you could argue, they’ve earned being born into such wealth, and they hold onto it through sacrifice.
The sacrifice of others, that is.
Grace (Weaving) doesn’t come from wealth. If anything, she is so poor that, to these people, she’s something less than human, almost like a goat, as an example. We assume she is loved by her soon to be husband Alex (Mark O’Brien), because why else would you marry someone? Also, we start to gather, you’d really have to love someone in order to bring them home to Mom and Dad with the hope that everyone survives the encounter.
But not everyone will. After about a half hour of screentime, the family basically starts chasing Grace down with the understanding that if they don’t sacrifice her before dawn, the entire clan itself will be doomed. I guess that’s plenty of incentive to be selfish.
Not everyone in the family is comfortable with this. Alex, obviously, isn’t ecstatic about his family trying to kill his new bride, but his alcoholic older brother Daniel (Adam Brody) also seems less than ecstatic about it. Most of the other lunatics, including the mother-in-law Becky (Andie MacDowell), lunatic patriarch (Henry Czerny) and the deranged aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni) are happy for a chance to kill her.
It’s not personal, you see, it’s just necessary.
I thought the flick, considering the pedigree, considering the other films that have come out somewhat similar recently, like The Hunt, Get Out or any other flick you can think of where the hunted becomes the hunter and kills their tormentors, that the flick would be about Grace abruptly transforming into a Sarah Connor-like badass who has to rise above and become an Amazon. That’s not really what happens. She’s just trying to survive, not get revenge, and most of the ridiculous deaths end up being of the servants, who die mostly by accident and entirely for comedic purposes. It’s not like I’m going to laugh at the help being offed, like, you know, it’s their job to die for their masters, but those deaths are entirely played for laughs.
Of course the whole setup is absurd, but the underlying idea of what values families instill in their members as children, the corrosive effect of this kind of bullshit on the souls of people who mostly don’t seem to possess souls in the first place, and the sacrifices people are willing to make in order to keep the peace within their families, all makes a horrible kind of sense here.
Grace’s deepest wish, having grown up in the foster system, having done it hard most of her life, is to be part of a big family that accepts you no matter what, that surrounds and embraces you. I know it’s played for ironic laughs, but the level of betrayal here is staggering, and it’s almost meant to make you *want* to see Grace kill everyone in a justified rage.
Samara Weaving is great here, though see is horrifically put through the ringer, and it’s not entirely for the story’s benefit. She attacks the role with significant gusto, even if much of the flick is her running up and down the same hallway of what is meant to be a palatial mansion. Her weak-willed partner’s acting barely registers, but his elder drunken brother certainly does. Adam Brody plays the part of a drunken louche shithead very easily, through years of practice, probably, but he does a wonderful job keeping us and Grace on a knife’s edge of whether he’ll help her, betray his family, help his family, or betray her, and we never know which it’s going to be. He embodies the idea that as great as it would be to be this mega-wealthy, the corrosion, the knowledge of where it comes from would grind you down from the inside out.
Grace’s nastiest antagonist, other than a young boy with a gun, is the butler (John Ralson) with pretensions of being a conductor, who is even more ruthless towards her than the family is, as if to prove the worst abusers of the “help” ends up being the other servants set above them, because how else to keep order among the peasants?
All in all, even as it reminded me of many other recent films, including Knives Out, which it’s nothing like, but shares with it a story centred around a rich family of poor-hating racist shitheads drowning in their own sense of entitlement, what I had was a curious sort of fun while watching this. The evil in this is not in the supernatural, or in pacts made with dubious entities – it’s the lengths people will go to, the justifications they’ll make, for doing awful things to people in order to hold on to what they’ve got. So seeing these awful people get their comeuppance or not, or seeing Grace barely escape from situations within an inch of her life, for the most part, was hellishly enjoyable for me. The film has been out for a while, so there’s no rush to stream it right now when people are still probably watching Hamilton for the nth time, or looking for the next thing to download, but it’s definitely worth a Thursday night viewing.
7 times Grace gets the last word, and it made me laugh out loud and a lot out of 10
“Fucking rich people” – they’re the worst, I know, but no-one wants to be noble and poor – Ready or Not