Ready Or Not (2019)

Ready Or Not first published by Sight & Sound, October 2019

Review: As founding members of filmmaking collective Radio Silence, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have previously helmed the segment 10/31/98 from V/H/S (2012), the frame story from Southbound (2016) and all of Devil’s Due (2014). Their latest, Ready Or Not, is a darkly funny foray into a family’s strange history and traditions, and also an allegory of America’s opportunistic, exploitative class system.

“You don’t belong in this family,” Grace (Samara Weaving) is told by her future brother-in-law Daniel (Adam Brody), just moments before she marries Alex (Mark O’Brien) in the opulent gardens of the huge Le Domas estate. “I mean that as a compliment.” The family has built its success on the manufacture of cards and board games, and some of its members suspect that Grace, an orphan who was passed from one foster home to another, is just a “gold-digging whore”, even if she insists that all she has ever wanted is to be permanently accepted into a stable family. No matter, as the criteria for initiation into this particular clan are predicated not on grooming, background or personal wealth, but only on one’s willing participation in a midnight game played after every new marriage – according to strict rules laid down to great grandfather Victor Le Domas, then a merchant seaman, by his travelling companion Mr Le Bail in exchange for a massive business investment. For most newcomers, this game merely involves a chess match or a round of Old Maid – but if anyone is unlucky enough, like Grace, to draw Hide and Seek, they will find themselves locked down in the mansion and hunted by the rest of the well-armed family, at least some of whom believe that a failure to slaughter her before dawn will lead to all their deaths and the family’s bloody end.

Like Erin in Adam Wingard’s You’re Next (2011), outsider Grace becomes both witness and victim to an established family’s dysfunctional rituals, forced into aggressive cat-and-mouse with in-laws who are more concerned over their legacy than her life and are all too willing to sacrifice poorer strangers (and the odd staff member) to the continuance of their own fortunes. Coming out in the same year as Chelsea Stardust’s similarly themed Satanic Panic, Ready Or Not taps into the widespread feeling, no matter on which side of America’s polarised divide you sit, that the days are numbered for the nation’s well-heeled white élites, whose monetary base is ill founded and maintained, whose moral compass has long been out of synch with any kind of reality, and whose perpetuation results from corrupting deals with the devil. The pleasure on offer here is the satisfaction of comeuppance, and of a down-trodden, objectified underclass emerging triumphant over its oppressors. It is thrilling, violent and often hilarious – but also, as fantasies go, intensely political. Traditionally a virgin bride’s dress was bloodied to consummate her transfer as property from one patriarch to another – but this very expressly non-virginal bride will end up covered in crimson for different reasons that break radically from family tradition.  

Synopsis: Little Daniel protects his younger brother Alex from witnessing a bridegroom, Charles, being bloodily hunted down in the Le Domas mansion by the rest of the family, at arms and in masks. Thirty years later, the adult Alex returns to the mansion to marry Grace. By a tradition established by family benefactor Mr Le Bail generations earlier, at midnight Grace must play a randomly chosen game. Assigned Hide and Seek, she quickly discovers that the armed family members hope to capture and slaughter her in a Satanic ritual before dawn, in the belief that their failure to do so will lead to their collective destruction. Caught helping Grace evade the others, Alex is hand-cuffed to a bed, while trigger-happy sister-in-law Emilie accidentally kills a maid. Grace burns the butler Stevens, and flees to a barn, where she is shot in the hand by Emilie’s young son  Georgie and discovers a pit full of corpses. Grace escapes the grounds, but Stevens captures her and brings her back. About to be ritually sacrificed by clan patriarch Tony, Grace gets away with help from Daniel (whom sister-in-law Charity then shoots dead). Grace batters Tony’s wife Becky to death. Alex escapes his bonds, but seeing his mother dead, decides himself to sacrifice Grace. Too late: it is already dawn. All the family members bloodily explode, including Alex when Grace returns his ring.

Anton Bitel