Ready or Not: Not

The main character was not ready. And neither was I.

I should start by saying that I’m not good with horror movies.

I very rarely watch them, and when I do I usually have to make a very conscious choice to do so. I have to be mentally prepared for what I’m in for. It was not like that for Ready or Not. Simply put, I was not ready when it came for me.

The cover image for the film on the streaming service was like the image above: a man in a white shirt with a woman in a pretty lace wedding dress. How sweet. Nothing seemed very ominous about it, so I didn’t really bat an eye when it was put forward as an option for movie night. Boy did I suffer for that nonchalance.

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and released in 2019, Ready or Not is a satirical horror film. Grace (Samara Weaving) spent her childhood in foster homes, which is why she’s particularly excited to marry the clean-cut, wholesome Alex le Domas (Mark O’Brien). Marriage is her opportunity to finally have a family and belong somewhere, so she’s pushing ahead even though she hasn’t actually met most her beau’s relatives. Alex, though, is much less enthused—he’s been estranged from his family for some time.

We realise why when the film introduces us to the le Domases. They’re horrible. The family comes from generations of wealth, living off the success of an ancestor who had established a company selling board games. This lifetime privilege has bred selfishness, arrogance, cynicism and disillusionment, manifesting differently in various members of the family. Grace, eager for acceptance, hopefully warms to Alex’s mother Becky (Andie MacDowell), who at least appears sincere in her desire to bring her younger son back into the fold. The wedding ceremony itself goes off without a hitch in the le Domas’s beautiful (and huge) family estate.

The catch comes later that night, when Alex tells Grace of a family tradition: after every wedding, the family gathers at midnight to play a game. It’s a ritual, Alex says, that needs to be completed before the newest member of the family is officially accepted as a le Domas.

Grace shows up where the family is gathered and her new father-in-law Tony (Henry Czerny) explains the background to her. Many years ago, an ancestor made a deal with a mysterious “Mr le Bail”, where, in return for adhering to this bizarre post-wedding practice, the le Domases received wealth and success. Ever since then, the family has scrupulously upheld their end of the bargain.

Weird, but okay. Grace is game. It’s just a family tradition after all. What harm could come from playing chess or whatever, even if the room they’re playing it in is creepy AF and the relatives come across as terrible company? As the newest member of the family, it falls to her to draw a card from an old puzzle box; the card will tell everyone what to play. Grace innocently pulls a card out. It says “hide and seek”.

Grace giggles at the idea of grown-ups running around the mansion playing a children’s game in the middle of the night. She doesn’t notice the change in Alex’s face as she trots out of the room to find a hiding spot. As she prepares, the rest of the family (except Alex) arms themselves with all manner of old-fashioned weaponry, from pistols to crossbows and even an axe. Oh shit.

Grace is completely oblivious to the life-and-death aspect of this game until she accidentally sees Emilie—Alex’s spoilt and self-absorbed sister—shoot a maid in the head. Emilie (Melanie Scrofano) is so hopped up on drugs that she’d mistaken the dark-haired, black-clad employee for Grace, who is not only blonde but still decked out in her lacy wedding gown. Only then does Alex come clean. While all the other cards Grace could have drawn from the puzzle board would have just pointed to regular games, “hide and seek” is the only card that leads to a much grimmer outcome: while Grace hides, the le Domases have to hunt her down and make her the centrepiece of a ritual sacrifice. They have to do this before dawn and break the curse, or the whole family will be wiped out. Basically, it’s her or them.

What the fuck? Grace is plunged into a nightmare. The rest of the film follows her attempts to escape the worst in-laws ever. While Alex disables the estate’s security system at first to give her a better shot at escaping, he’s incapacitated fairly early on and becomes absolutely useless in helping his bride.

As satire, Ready or Not provides great commentary on the worst qualities of the monied classes. The le Domas family is an assortment of repulsive personalities: Tony and Becky are more concerned with maintaining an appearance of a successful family than with the well-being of each member, while auntie Helene (Nicky Guadagni) is bitter and resentful. As we know from the film’s opening scene, Helene’s wedding was when the “hide and seek” card was last drawn, and the groom was ultimately sacrificed. It’s a disappointing but familiar story of complicity: if Helene faces up to the horror of what was done to the only man she’d ever loved, she’d have to accept the role she’d played in his death. That responsibility is too much (or too uncomfortable) to bear, so Helene goes in the opposite direction—she buys into the family lore 110% and becomes more zealous in guarding le Domas tradition than anyone else. Only when the deal with Mr le Bail is held up as unquestionable can the sacrifice of her husband be rationalised as inevitable and necessary, and Helene excused from her guilt.

Then there’s Emilie, so insulated by wealth that she’s never had to face any consequences for her emotional immaturity and incompetence. The only sympathetic thing I can say about her is that she does seem to love her two young sons, although one despairs to imagine how those two innocents are being raised. Emilie’s husband Fitch (Kristian Bruun) is brash and dumb; he doesn’t care about much as long as it doesn’t inconvenience him.

We also have Daniel (Adam Brody) and Charity (Elyse Levesque). Daniel is the only family member to have actually met Grace before the wedding and is generally still on good terms with his younger brother. He’s a scruffy, sharp-tongued alcoholic and cynic, but there are still occasional glimpses of a human being in there. His wife Charity, though, is an icy and terrifying example of someone who, having grown up poor, will stop at nothing to hold on to the wealth and privilege she has finally obtained. She’s lost all empathy for those who share her modest background and doesn’t give a shit how many bodies—figurative or literal—she has to step over to maintain her current position.

Within the boundaries of the expansive estate, the family acts with impunity. The le Domases are enabled by servants who confuse proximity with solidarity and consistently choose the wrong team to align themselves with. Much could have been achieved if only the staff—who, thanks to their jobs, have access to key resources like knowledge of the estate’s layout, control over the security system and even a car—had chosen to help Grace, but these members of the working class are too much in thrall to their rich bosses to realise that loyalty only goes in one direction here.

Apart from abject terror, Grace is, understandably, fucking pissed. Who wouldn’t be? She’d desperately wanted this marriage because she’d thought it’d be her ticket out of the emotional insecurity left by a childhood without permanence. (The thought of wealth and comfort for the rest of her life probably hadn’t hurt, either.) But after achieving the ‘dream’, she’s discovered that not only is it not what she’d imagined, it’s also a trap that strips her of her personhood, possibly even for good. No one is interested in who she is or how she feels; she’s simply a pawn to le Domases. She fights hard to live but is almost always at a disadvantage, reacting to the situation she’s been involuntarily placed in without much opportunity to flip the script. The moment she entered the le Domas household, Grace is robbed of the ability to set the terms of engagement. No wonder she burns with white-hot rage. “Fucking rich people!” she shrieks towards the end of the film. It’s hard to disagree.

I was stressed watching this film. Mostly because I wasn’t ready for a night of gore and terror, even if it was meant to be black comedy. It was a bit of a shock to the system after having been safely cocooned in the soft and fluffy world of Asian rom-coms for quite some time. But also, everyone was the worst. They were supposed to be, so the filmmakers have done their job well, but it was still hella enraging.

Every le Domas is twisted or traumatised—mostly both—in some way. There’s no way not to be, if that’s the sort of environment you’ve grown up in. None of them seem particularly happy, but instead of dealing with their own shit they choose to wallow in it and, even worse, spread it around. They’re the ones who’ve made a deal with the devil and made out handsomely; it’s everyone else around them who’s expected to pay the price. At one point of the film it’s suggested that they don’t even know for sure if the curse is real. But they want to kill Grace anyway, just in case.

Alex, who started out as Grace’s lovely groom, doesn’t get out of this either. That character shot to the top of my shitlist the moment the rules of the game became clear. He knew that this family tradition would kick in if they got married, and that there was a chance, however small, that Grace would end up as prey in this violent game of hide-and-seek. But he never told her about it. He thought that Grace would leave him if he didn’t marry her, so he chose to get married, despite knowing the truth, rather than risk losing her. In other words, he was willing to gamble with her life just so he wouldn’t have to worry about getting dumped. And because of that, Grace was deprived of her right to give informed consent to marrying into the le Domas family. Although Alex had distanced himself from his family and tried to act like he was purer and kinder than them, he was no different from the rest. He was willing to let someone else—in this case, the woman he was supposed to love more than anyone—take on the risk and the danger for what he wanted. What an absolute fucker. I hated him the most, that gaslighting little shit.

Ready or Not tells a story about the psychopathy of the upper classes through an extreme event, but the parallels to real life are clear. In their insatiable pursuit of more profit, power and influence, the one-percenters of the world operate with very little accountability, sacrificing the well-being and livelihoods of countless others in service of their goals. Any price is affordable when someone else is picking up the tab, and the world is full of people who have been brainwashed all our lives to believe that if only we tried hard for their acceptance, we, too, could live that dream. But, like Grace, we eventually discover that there is no reward in this relationship, only exploitation. How very infuriating.