Hell is other (rich) people in Ready or Not, a deliciously mean dark horror comedy about a wedding night gone very wrong. It’s not particularly subtle, nor should it be; Ready or Not is a movie to watch when you’re mad.
Particularly if you’re mad about the rent being too damn high, or your Sisyphean mountain of student debt, or just income inequality in general. Ready or Not is better as horror than social commentary, but it harbors a vendetta against the kind of acquisitive avarice that can insulate generations against what’s going on in the world outside their iron gates. And in this case, the gates are literal.
In the end, it’s a fantasy of comeuppance — a bloody, manic one with plenty of weaponry and gore to go around and a determined heroine (or maybe an avenging angel) at its center. Ready or Not takes its name from a game, an amusement for children, but it has something to say about some very grown-up concerns. And it’s both fun and deadly serious.
Beware the Le Domas family!
Ready or Not is a good old-fashioned satirical revenge fantasy, set in one of those creaky historic mansions with fantastic, expansive, obsessively manicured grounds. Touches like servants’ passageways and dumbwaiters are preserved throughout. Ghosts seem to lurk around every corner. It’s the perfect sort of house in which to play hide-and-seek.
The house is occupied by the Le Domas family, whose fortune was made on games — first they sold playing cards, during the Civil War, followed by more games and trinkets in subsequent generations. Now they’re fabulously wealthy, and the current patriarch Tony (Henry Czerny) and his wife Becky (Andie MacDowell) live in the sprawling estate, while their children Melanie (Melanie Scrofano), Daniel (Adam Brody), and Alex (Mark O’Brien) have moved on to lives, spouses, and children of their own.
The whole family has gathered for Alex’s wedding to Grace (Samara Weaving). Grace is beautiful and spunky and grew up in foster homes; as one family member remarks to another, she is nothing like the Le Domas family, because she “has a soul.” Because she grew up without a permanent family, Grace is delighted to be joining one, whether or not they’re wealthy. And though Alex fled his family years ago — “they’re horrible people,” he tells Grace — he’s agreed to host the wedding at his family’s estate because Grace so wanted to be part of a family. So the whole family has convened, including creepy Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni), to witness their union.
As you might guess, the Le Domas clan is not ... normal. One of their stranger traditions — though at least it’s in keeping with the family business — is that at midnight after a wedding, everyone comes together in the special family-only drawing room. The new member of the family draws a card from a special box, revealing the name of a game that everyone then must play.
Grace finds the tradition bizarre, but good-naturedly agrees to go along with her new family’s idiosyncrasies, even if Alex seems far too distressed about playing some checkers or poker on their wedding night. She draws the card for hide-and-seek; Alex turns white. And soon it becomes clear why.
It’s a strange setup that explodes into something like a gory fable about the perils of too much money and greed — a morality tale and a savage romp rolled into one, with a blisteringly cathartic ending. (Light spoilers follow.)
Ready or Not is a movie about what happens when you sell your soul to the devil
You can sort of guess where Ready or Not is going: The game of “hide-and-seek” is not just a game but a bloody hunting outing, with the rich family as the hunters and everywoman stand-in Grace as the target.
Unlike some of the other game options in the box, hide-and-seek hasn’t been drawn for decades — not since Helene’s wedding, which we catch a glimpse of at the beginning of the film. Now, the Le Domases will spend all night hunting Grace; they have to kill her before morning, they believe, something she comes to understand, to her terror and fury. Otherwise, someone called “Mr. Le Bail” will kill them all.
Mr. Le Bail is the devil, basically, and it turns out that Alex’s great-great-grandfather sold his soul — quite literally — to Le Bail, to guarantee fabulous wealth for his family. (Starting a company that manufactures playing cards in the middle of the Civil War is not obviously a recipe for success.)
The existence of the devil is one of several examples of how Ready or Not uses religious imagery to tell its tale. Grace’s name is another, and at one point she falls down, through a hole, into a hellish depository where the corpses and skeletons of others who have died at the hands of the Le Domas family are rotting. A hellhole, you could say. And when, in her attempts to climb out, she brings her injured hand down, full force, on a nail sticking up out of the ground, the Jesus imagery is more than a little on the nose.
But she prevails — or, you might say, descends into hell but emerges victorious. Then, in a move that’s distinctly not Jesus-like, she decides she’ll not only survive but exact her revenge. She leaves the Le Domas family home in blood and flames. (And it turns out that the family’s fears of Le Bail murdering them all if they fail to kill Grace were decidedly not based on mere myth.)
All of this imagery is pretty clever, especially tied to the age-old notion of extreme success and fabulous wealth coming from a Faustian bargain, a very high-stakes game indeed. Ready or Not’s screenwriters Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy give the old narrative a contemporary edge, and directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (V/H/S) turn it into a cartoonishly bloody free-for-all. (All the Le Domases must hunt with weapons that have been in the family for generations, which yields a very funny scene in which one person searches YouTube for a primer on how to use a crossbow.) By the final scenes, everyone is literally soaked in blood, and some have been run through with arrows or had part of their heads blown off with vintage pistols. It’s not a “nice” ending, but that’s fitting for a film that’s trying to tap into frustration and anger about a world where greed trumps empathy, where wealth becomes a barrier between one person’s luxurious comfort and another person’s reality.
All of that works as a story. But as cinema, it’s a little disappointing at times. Weaving is particularly fabulous as Grace, and the world looks good, but the film is not very interestingly shot; with such an off-kilter story and lushly ominous setting, you can’t help wondering what it would have looked like if someone with some visual imagination had tried their hand at it. Too often, Ready or Not looks and feels like a straight-ahead horror thriller, but the opportunity to do something truly mind-bending (those grounds! those passageways) is squandered.
But that doesn’t ultimately thwart the film’s purpose, which is to take some cinematic revenge on those who sacrifice humanity — their own, and others’ — in gluttonous pursuit of the kind of wealth that can keep them aloof from what ordinary people deal with every day: the cost of rent, the price of gas or medical care, the lack of a safety net if something goes wrong. Over and over, Ready or Not underlines the allure of selling your soul to join that more comfortable world, and that allure feels, as it always has, like a dark warning. Wealth is a blessing, or a curse, or maybe both. Think hard about what you’ll do to get it.
Ready or Not opens in theaters on August 21.