The consequences of avarice.
I SHOULD HAVE SEEN READY OR NOT IN THEATERS.
I’m genuinely upset that I missed Ready or Not when it debuted because it was intertwined with the visual marketing of Knives Out during its initial release back in 2019. Now, that I’ve officially seen it and thoroughly reveled in its storytelling — I can tell you that without a doubt the film is the cherry on top of the last decade. Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, this horror-thriller is the best rollercoaster I’ve experienced in a long time.
Standing on the shoulders of the occultist/demonic smash-hit Hereditary (2018), this story takes the ‘meet the family’ genre and cranks it up to 11. Imagine if the person that you’re about to marry is a direct recipient of the Devil’s good graces and your life once you say ‘I Do’ is dependent on a game of chance. There’s no backing out now, the family is all surrounding you smiling (with weapons behind their backs) and they won’t take no for an answer.
Ready or Not begins with the winking eye of The Devil or Mr. Le Bail (as the family addresses them) and slowly pans to the sinister machinations of the Le Domas family’s monetary success. A series of board games entitled: Family Ritual, Secret Council, Le Bail’s Gambit, Sunrise, and Abracadabra are all Easter Eggs that ultimately foreshadow all of the major plot points of the film.
Brilliantly, they are so innocuous at first that you may not even remember their significance until the Le Domas family mansion goes up in flames towards the film’s close. Grace (Samara Weaving) plays the Bride whose unwittingly placed herself in the crosshairs of a family that only cares about her welfare as a sacrifice to keep their empire afloat. Oh, and she must play the game set forth by Mr. Le Bail’s rules.
The Le Domas family has a magical box that contains a series of cards. Whoever marries into the family must draw a card, place it inside the slot of the box, and whatever the card denotes once it spits out must be played (or they get a pass to live with no violent repercussions).
THE FAMILY THAT SLAYS TOGETHER STAYS TOGETHER
The Le Domas family is a mixture of wealthy character types. The elder-generation is really all that’s holding the family together and the younger generations are pitifully following in their stead. You have the well-wrought character types of the patriarchal father figure that is trying to maintain the family’s money and good standing, the older Aunt that maintains a sense of decorum and harps on tradition, and the Mother that only wants what’s best for her children and the family.
The younger family members are a mixed bag of assorted-nuts that oftentimes look like they’re playing dress-up and going through the motions for the elders in their midst. Besides being inept with their weapons, many of them hem-and-haw about the family game night and don’t even want to participate.
If one of them isn’t holed up in the bathroom on YouTube trying to figure out how their weapon even works, two more of them are in various states of intoxication (alcohol, cocaine, and who knows what else) respectively. There’s only one of the younger generation that’s taking the night seriously because she doesn’t want to give up the life of luxury that she’s married into.
She obviously survived her game night years ago and lived to tell the tale, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to help anyone else to survive theirs either. She’s too far down the rabbit hole to turn back now and in truth the entire Le Domas family is. Their family has made their deal with the Devil, excuse me Mr. Le Bail, and he wants his due. Clearly, the only stipulation is that they played by the rules and well you’ll see the gory end results of what happened when they didn’t. Hint: pop!
HIDE AND SEEK
Grace is a participant in the ultimate cat and mouse game of Hide and Seek. She’s drawn a ‘bad-card’ aka a card that will test her survival skills until sunrise; wherein, she must use every ounce of her physical and mental fortitude to survive. When I saw the game that Grace was forced to play, my interest was piqued by the entire deck of cards inside Mr. Le Bail’s box. I wondered what other grim games were included within.
As the characters themselves elude or outright state some of them obviously got a lucky hand and lived to see another day–no game required. Another quirk I loved about the film is the record player that acts as a countdown for the game to begin. Plus, the omniscience of Mr. Le Bail who is always there whether the players can see them or not. The lyrics are fun and chilling all at the same time. Listen to the song in its entirety sometime, you won’t’ regret it. Here’s a snippet to whet your appetite:
Who wants to play a game? It’s time to play hide and seek!
Run, run, run!
Time to run and hide!
Run, run, run!
And now I’m going to find
You scurry off into the darkness
Hurry, I’m behind you!
Don’t you speak!
Hide and seek!
Tiptoe through the cellar or crawl under your bed
Anywhere you’ve fled
I am going to find you
Stay inside the shadows, all you girls and boys
Don’t you make noise
Or I am going to find you
Interesting notes about Mr. Le Bail, their name is an anagram of Belial (beli ya’al) the Hebrew terminology which characterized the wicked or the worthless. To include, this is the name of the angel cast out of heaven after Lucifer, who was one of the first to revolt against God. Their name is oftentimes conflated with the Devil, lies, and cunning.
Or Mr. Le Bail’s name also refers to the other demonic figure named Bael or deity Baal which was often described as being multi-faced. That’s some ingenious writing when the Le Domas family themselves are also very ‘two-faced’. Thus, it’s very apropos that the family would intertwine their destiny with an equally avaricious creature that loves deceit and the thrill of a game well played.
THE HORROR TROPES ACADEMY
Converse shoes are well known for their long term (fashion-forwardness) and practicality. Within Ready or Not, they are the new combat boot. Quiet, light, and made for swift maneuvering they are one of the ultimate assets to Grace’s survival besides her quick-wittedness. The film Ready or Not loves to challenge film and horror tropes in this way by subtly or blatantly pulling the rug from underneath character’s within the story and the audience.
For example, the Le Domas family grabs a variety of practical weapons to subdue Grace, in particular, an assortment of old or medieval antiquated weapons. When Grace finds her way back to the literal and metaphorical ‘game-room’ she grabs a shotgun and dons a bandolier of bullets. Classic action film stuff, right? Well, the gun and the bullets are well-manufactured props. Not the biggest shocker in the world, but the ineptitude of the family trying to kill her is.
Well, perhaps not. The Le Domas family is cloistered within their lofty estate and focus their time on more economic wheelings and dealings, rather than the games that they know they’ll be forced to play eventually. Has this life of luxury made them lazy? Yes, and it’s made them incompetent and lackadaisical where it truly counts by underestimating their opponent.
Their laissez-faire attitude obviously costs them their lives and their fortune. If only they’d followed Grace’s example and really kept their heads in the game they might have succeeded to see another day. Ultimately, it never mattered if it was Grace or another individual that married into the family to bring about their downfall; there was always a ticking clock above their heads anyway.
Who doesn’t love a good comeuppance? Truly, it’s one of the things that sustains me. The Le Domas family reaps what they’ve sown and lose everything: their luxurious status symbol mansion, their lives, and their humanity but they obviously lost that a long-long time ago.
There was something so cathartic to see everything go up in flames at film’s end and the imagery of this extravagantly wealthy family finally getting a taste of their own medicine was sublime. We (the cinema-going) public love a good class-story that displays how the ostentatiousness of wealth is unsustainable and never as charitable and kind as their sleight of hand would fool us to believe.
See, the massive success of Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite within the same year for explicit context. It was the film to cap off an amazing year of films that really explored the struggle to survive poverty and stay above water by any means necessary. Other horror films, such as Us by Jordan Peele had similar condemnations of class and socio-economic disparity.
It’s not surprising to me, but in fact very fascinating how 2019 was the year that the cracks in the dam began to give way globally, and really highlighted how fleeting everything that we assumed to be ‘normal’ truly was. The COVID-19 pandemic is the ultimate proof of that. The ‘new normal’ is constant protests in the streets exposing: systemic racism, massive income-inequality, police brutality, and the unmasking of the wealthy/celebrities.
REVIVING LOW BUDGET HORROR
A plethora of cinema gems came out of 2019 that remain nestled in the low-budget category but utilized every cent to tell amazing stories, such as The Lighthouse directed by Robert Eggers and Midsommar directed by Ari Aster. Even though these films oftentimes employed ‘A-List’ talent (if you believe in that metric) the filmmakers didn’t sacrifice excess money to pay potentially inflated egos and focused on the craft of filmmaking; the actors moreover focused on the depths of theatrical acting. Ready or Not‘s entire cast followed suit. There are some incredibly raw and nuanced moments in the film that could have only happened with the right actors in the driver seat.
If one knows their horror history, they’ll remember that horror films having low-budgets was a very common phenomenon because horror was often classified as ironically enough ‘low-class’ or for ‘low-brow’ filmgoers. The horror genre has now skyrocketed in popularity, budget, and critical acclaim but in truth, the horror community never truly wanted the opinion of critics and gatekeepers of the industry. They merely wanted to be recognized for their work and awarded accordingly, especially in makeup/effects, cinematography and acting.
The huge petition and Internet fervor that swelled for the film Hereditary is a prime example of the horror community just wanting the beautifully intricate work and talent of all those involved to be recognized and lauded just like every other film industry. Alas, ’twas not to be. I’m not suggesting filmmakers make a deal with the Devil or anything to get what they desire because we all know the consequences (ready or not) if you lose the game.