Content warnings: emotional abuse, toxic relationships.
Ready Or Not didn’t need to say much to make me want to see it. The previews showed us New Age Scream Queen Samara Weaving in a lacy wedding dress and yellow Converse high-tops wielding a huge shotgun as she was forced into a deadly game of hide and seek on her wedding night. The film’s wide-release came on August 21, 2019. That weekend, I was already seeing horror fans on social media screaming to the tune of, “Do not wait to see this movie. Go see it in a theater.” I went to a midday showing the following week in a fairly empty theater. Even though I was by myself in the theater, I knew I was among a number of horror fans who cheered when Grace let loose a slew of juvenile obscenities followed by a, “fucking rich people,” and when she punched a rich kid in the face. Ending on such a satisfying note where the mansion goes up in flames while Stereo Jane’s cover of “Love Me Tender” plays. Once the credits started rolling, I was ready to turn around and buy a ticket to the next showing and buy some yellow Converse.
The film was put together by Radio Silence Productions, a trio consisting of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, and Chad Villella (V/H/S segment 10/31/98, Southbound, and the upcoming Scream film). It was quickly “Certified Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes and received generally positive reviews from critics and fans alike, with David Sims of The Atlantic writing, “The real fun in Ready Or Not comes from the ways it subverts its time-tested story, balancing wry commentary and straightforward horror in its portrait of fumbling arrogance and curdled privilege.”
Ready Or Not does not hesitate and grabs the audience by the throat as soon as the curtains go up. We see a running man in a bloodied tux with arrows sticking out of his torso and two scared young boys in matching PJs, unsure of who is chasing whom. The older boy, Daniel, hides his younger brother, Alex, into a cabinet armoire, before shouting, “He’s in here,” alerting the rest of his family to where the groom has run off to. A swarm of people in masks and robes enter and shoot him with another arrow. A sobbing bride is held back, and we later learn she is stern and pointed Aunt Helene.
And then we jump to 30 years later.
The anxious bride, Grace (Samara Weaving), is rehearsing her wedding vows, she shifts and lights a cigarette and continues, “And even though your family is richer than god and intimidates the hell out of me, your dad definitely hates me and your alcoholic brother keeps hitting on me, honestly can’t wait to be a part of your moderately fucked up family.”
In her wedding vows, Grace mentions that she was brought up in foster homes. While her foster parents did what they could to provide, she never felt a sense of “permanence” in her life or with her family. Having dysfunctional or disorderly family members probably seemed normal to her through whatever television or movies she watched. Even The Brady Bunch would have some sort of problem that the family would resolve within a half hour.
Part of the brilliance of Ready Or Not is the dialogue. The characters don’t need to present epic, emotional monologues for us to learn who they are and how they experience and process events. As the family is taking photos before the wedding ceremony, we get a series of awkward photos and dark humorous commentary, particularly from the eldest Le Domas son, Daniel (Adam Brody). Daniel is painfully aware of how his family unit runs and how “the rich really are different”. He advises Grace to let the glares from the family roll off of her shoulders and when his wife, Charity (Elyse Levesque), remarks on how Grace may never be a real part of the family he responds with, “Of course not, dear- she has a soul.” Subtle, right?
One of the most subtle yet strategic bits of writing comes while the family is counting down and arming up to play the game. Fitch and Emilie’s sons, Georgie and Gabe, are being put to bed and one of the maids is reading them a bedtime story. But she’s not reading them Berenstain Bears or Goosebumps- she’s reading them John Milton’s epic poem from 1667, Paradise Lost. The audience comes in as she’s reading this passage-
“Here we may reign secure; and in my choice To reign is worth ambition, though in hell: Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”John Milton
The Le Domas family at their core is guilty of the sins of wrath, greed, and pride, and choosing this book as a bedtime story further proves that the family’s obsession with power is passing down from generation to generation.
While we never learn the full backstory of Daniel and Charity’s relationship, we know it bears some similarities to Alex and Grace’s relationship. Daniel was the rich boy and Charity (fitting name) came from somewhere one could call “less fortunate”. The biggest difference being how open they are about how fucked up their lives are and their situations have been. That doesn’t mean they’re in a healthy relationship because they’re incredibly together.
Daniel: “Alex may have been in the wrong to keep Grace in the dark, but do you remember how you reacted when I told you about this? You didn’t fucking blink. I mean, you couldn’t wait to sign your soul away.”
Charity: “You know where I came from and what my life was like before. I’d rather be dead than lose all of this.”
Lucky for them, Charity just pulled the chess card on their wedding night.
And, luckily(?) for Charity, after she shoots her husband in the neck as she fears she may lose her rich-status, she does end up dying instead of losing everything.
Meanwhile, on Alex and Grace’s wedding night, after the game begins, and Grace pulls the one bad card, Alex’s true colors begin to show even more. Grace is in hysterics over her new in-laws trying to kill her and Alex hits her with the-
Alex: “You wanted to get married?”
Grace: “So it’s my fucking fault?! Are you fucking serious?!”
Not only does this fall under a common gaslighting technique (deflecting due blame), it falls under the same umbrella as referring to your wife as “the ol’ ball and chain”. If Alex hadn’t already referred to Grace as “the old lady” then he was going to sooner or later. Remember how much we hated Glenn in The Wedding Singer? It’s the same shit. Maybe he didn’t want to get married but rather than admit they were unhappy or uncomfortable, like a jealous child with a toy, they tighten their grip. He’s also trying to deflect the blame from himself. Saying they were content with their 18-month long “bone fest” before the topic of marriage came up.
It’s a long told tale of affluent kids- the Le Domas kids have never been told “no”.
Whether it’s something good or bad, they’ll get what they want. Emilie has a hefty drug habit and a husband who is more than happy to indulge in private jets and a variety of said drugs. Daniel has alcohol at his disposal.
And Alex has Grace.
As Grace confronts him about his family’s so-called tradition,
Grace: “You didn’t even fucking talk to me, you could have told me…”
Alex: “If i told you, you would’ve left. If i didn’t propose you would’ve left.”
It’s a less- drastic version of saying, “if you leave me, i’ll kill myself”. He’s trying to garner sympathy for himself and make himself seem like more of a victim. He’s a victim of circumstance but that’s about it. He grew up within a family that was ready to sacrifice goats (literal and figurative) to keep their status. Something that would seem outlandish to some but was it fed to them as a normal thing. It’s a reason but not an excuse.
And as the events of the night unfold and the sun is about to come up, Alex comes to think he may lose Grace anyways as she’ll reject him. He bemoans, “You won’t be with me after this, will you?” Grace is bloodied and beaten and just bashed her mother-in-law’s head in. Without a word, Alex places his hands on Grace’s cheeks, seemingly in last-ditch affection, until we see Grace is in pain at the hands of her husband. If he can’t have her, then she’s just another sacrifice.
And it boils down to this- men are afraid that women will laugh at them and women are afraid that men will kill them.
It. Fucking. Happens.
Women have said “no” to giving a man their phone number or no to going to a high school dance with them and then been savagely killed by the men they turned down.
Short of getting down on his knees to add more theatricality to his begging, Alex cries out a slew of affectionate words to Grace, “Honey I’m really sorry, I’m not like them…I get a do-over sweetie, and that’s because of you.” After almost stabbing her to death as part of a satanic ritual, he’s ready to smother her with affection to save his own ass and smooth over the situation- a very tall and impossible order at this point in the game.
And then Alex blows up with the rest of his family after Grace throws the ring at him and says, “I want a divorce.”
National Domestic Violence Hotline, which also includes LGBTQ+ relationship resources
1-800-799-7233 or text “LOVEIS” to 1-866-331-9474