‘Ready or Not’ Takes on the 1% With Grindhouse Fury
“Ready or Not” isn’t meant for fancy, overly expensive multiplexes. This hilariously fun, gruesomely entertaining troublemaker is the very definition of a midnight movie, meant to play at smaller venues where its fans will cheer and fist pump. But there is a mischievous delight in knowing this film about rich Satanists and bloodied brides will be available down the hall from your typical offerings of buffed men jumping out of speeding cars. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett bask in pure genre filmmaking, combining wicked satire with gore that isn’t necessarily senseless. In the 1970s this would not be an oddity, today it stands out.
Samara Weaving plays Grace, an orphan getting ready to tie the knot with Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien) of the board game empire Le Domases. It’s the American Dream for Grace as she prepares to marry into this wealthy family headed by patriarch Tony (Henry Czerny), his wife Becky (Andie MacDowell), and the pretty menacing Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni). They and other members of the snobby clan meet at the lush family estate to toast the nuptials. The evening takes a strange turn however, when Tony announces the commencement of a family tradition involving a small box, a card and the selection of a game to play. Once Grace selects a card the chosen game is hide and seek. Once she goes to find a hiding place it turns out it’s not a regular family pastime, the Le Domases get armed with vintage weapons to hunt down the bride to be. Their purpose is to sacrifice her to demonic forces which years ago made a pact with the original founder of the dynasty. Now Grace has to put any hopes of a blissful honeymoon aside and find a way to escape the mansion and this demented band of bloodthirsty oligarchs.
Imagine John Carpenter, Sam Peckinpah and Robert Rodriguez getting together to make a savage social commentary and you get the idea of what “Ready or Not” is all about. In this yarn the one percent become demented predators out to kill the working class bride. Early on some of Alex’s snarling rich kin don’t see Grace as fit for their blue-blooded stock. The screenplay by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy cheerfully mocks the elite, with each member of the Le Domases representing some stereotype of wealthy debauchery. Alex’s brother Daniel (Adam Brody) is a drinking depressive, Emilie (Melanie Scrofano) snorts coke and pops pills, while the slyly-named Charity (Elyse Levesque) can’t aim straight. Fitch (Kristian Bruun) hates flying commercial and stumbles with old weapons. Even the family butler is a maniac who obsessively hums the 1812 Overture. As Grace evades them all the standoff turns into a blood-soaked ride with swinging axes, exploding bodies and fights where a punch to the face is the most comfortable blow. Olpin and Gillett film it all with a sharp style and strong sense of pacing, building tension before violence and being unafraid of humor. Scenes of carnage turn comic as the Le Domases clumsily try to fire guns or struggle with moving a corpse. When some of the help get caught in the crossfire there’s no sense of pity, just annoyance.
Olpin and Gillett recently shared their insights into the making of “Ready or Not” with Entertainment Voice.
“It was a no brainer for us,” said Gillett when sharing how the directing duo had come across the script years before but weren’t able to pull it off. “It’s a mix of everything that we love about movies. The characters are interesting, it’s thrilling and it matters. There was this instant friendship and instant creative alchemy that was undeniable.”
With a movie about the wealthy hunting the poor, it’s unavoidable to find satirical references to the current political climate. “When we went to pitch Fox Searchlight on the movie it was the day after the election,” said Olpin. “So the mood was quite somber. Everybody knew that it was the right time to tell this story and to the studio’s credit they got right behind the project right away. It’s a fun action genre piece, so we were able to explore these themes in a different way. Also, when dealing with the family, being descendants of some magnate from like two centuries ago, it’s about what it’s like when privilege is inherited and how you might be ill-equipped to maintain it. Those are definitely things we talked about during the development process. The actors had fun with it and did it in a way where you’re also not getting it heavy-handedly.”
Gillett and Olpin have been a directing duo for a while now, with credits in the horror/thriller genre that include titles like 2014’s “Devil’s Due.” Moving higher their technique has not changed. “It hasn’t changed much. We came up doing low-budget things where it was just us and our friends with a camera in the middle of nowhere,” said Gillett. “That all hands on deck approach has guided how we collaborate on every project. With a project like ‘Ready or Not,’ which is obviously a bigger film with a studio involved, we try to bring as much of what we learned in the past to a project. So yeah, Matt and I are always behind the monitor, always watching the scenes and for us, the way that we work, it’s about getting specific with the material as early as possible. That way when we’re on set we can get into our specialties really easily.”
For Samara Weaving, who has starred in genre films like “The Babysitter” and prestige titles like “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “Ready or Not” is a revelation in her capacity to become a take no prisoners heroine in the tradition of Uma Thurman in “Kill Bill.” Her role is both physically and emotionally demanding, she elevates her character beyond the script’s grindhouse spirit. Even when her bullet-blasted hand meets a nail, or when she’s injected with sleeping serum, it’s not whacky but absorbing. As the film reaches a flaming crescendo we cheer for her because she’s become endearing. “We cannot say enough of how incredible Sam is,” said Gillett. “She walked the gauntlet on this movie. She was on set for 25 days of the 26 days of shooting. We were putting her through some intense experiences, she’s climbing up a ladder one-handed, she’s squeezing through a fence, she’s in this fight, then in this fight. It’s unbelievably physical. But the thing that is instantly clear is that she has more tools as an actor at her disposal than you can even imagine. Her capacity to be this badass action star and be incredibly vulnerable, then funny and fearless…all of these qualities that you maybe hope to get one or two in a performance, she brings it all and so fully realized.”
Inevitably comparisons will be made between “Ready or Not” and “The Hunt,” the similarly-themed genre movie whose release was recently cancelled by Universal following a critical tweet from the president, and pushback in light of recent mass shootings. “The thing that really attracts us to genre films is that you get to explore ideas and have a conversation in this heightened world that you normally wouldn’t get to have,” said Gillett. “Through that conversation you’re able to challenge people and open their eyes. That’s what this is all about, telling stories and creating dialogue. We can’t speak specifically to what happened with ‘The Hunt’ because we didn’t see it. And it’s unfortunate that there are so many opinions about it without it having been seen. It’s a bit of a slippery slope. If you start drawing lines in the sand it gets tricky. What we hope this film achieves is a level of satire that while first and foremost it’s fun, but if you watch it through the lens of theme and commentary there’s a lot going on. For us there are so many things that are under the superficial elements that are important. There’s a dialogue about faith in the movie and family and entitlement and the dangers of all of that stuff. I think that if people are allowed to enjoy that conversation and laugh and be scared, then hopefully some of these larger themes sink in.”
“Ready or Not” opens Aug. 21 in theaters nationwide.