by Stephen Campbell - Is this helpful?
**_An entertaining horror-comedy that takes aim at the decadence and insularity of the 1%_**
>_So distribution should undo excess,/And each man have enough._
- William Shakespeare; _His True Chronicle Historie of the life and death of King Lear, and his three Daughters. With the vnfortunate life of Edgar, sonne and heire to the Earle of Gloster, and his sullen and assumed humour of Tom of Bedlam_, 4.i.73-74 (1605-1606)
>_In the long run, men inevitably become the victims of their wealth. They adapt their lives and habits to their money, not their money to their lives. It preoccupies their thoughts, creates artificial needs, and draws a curtain between them and the world._
- Herbert Croly; _The Promise of American Life_ (1909)
>_I don't want to be married just to be married. I can't think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can't talk to, or worse, someone I can't be silent with._
- Mary Ann Shaffer; _The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society_ (2008)
On August 3, 2018, Patrick Crusius murdered 22 people and injured 24 in a mass shooting in El Paso, TX. Just over 12 hours later, Connor Betts murdered nine people and injured 17 in a mass shooting in Dayton, OH. On August 10, Universal Pictures announced they had pulled Craig Zobel's eagerly awaited film _The Hunt_ from its scheduled release date on September 27. Telling the story of 12 strangers who are hunted for the amusement of a group of wealthy elites, in the wake of the shootings, the film had been accused by hysterical conservatives of portraying liberal elites hunting Donald Trump supporters. On August 7, for example, Matt Margolis of _PJ Media_ wrote,
>_in the past few days we've been hearing a lot about how Donald Trump's rhetoric is apparently to blame for the El Paso shooting, yet Hollywood apparently lacked the foresight to think that a movie promoting violence against "deplorables" might be in bad taste until after the shootings in El Paso and Dayton._
He also claimed, incorrectly, that the film was originally called _Red State Vs. Blue State_, before concluding,
>_apparently, some in Hollywood are more than willing to promote violence against Trump supporters. Meanwhile, Democrats and liberals in the media want us to believe that it's Trump's rhetoric that needs to be toned down._
On August 9, Trump himself tweeted, "_the movie coming out is made in order to inflame and cause chaos_" (as opposed to his own balm-like rhetoric, which is renowned for bringing people together), saying of Hollywood in general, "_they create their own violence, and then try to blame others. They are the true Racists, and are very bad for our Country!_" (because responding to a mass shooting by condemning a film you haven't seen makes way more sense than, oh, I don't know, tightening gun laws and outlawing the indefensible sale of automatic weaponry to the public. Way more sense).
So, what does any of this have to do with _Ready or Not_? Well, it's just curious that _Ready or Not_ has a very similar plot (elites hunting common folk), yet it has arrived in theatres without the slightest hint of controversy. Of course, despite what right-wing commentators would have us think about _The Hunt_, the theme of elites hunting the less privileged is nothing new. As far as I'm aware, it was first explored in Richard Connell's short story "The Most Dangerous Game" (1924). And now in _Ready or Not_, except with tongue firmly in cheek. Written by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy (aka Ryan Murphy), and directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, _Ready or Not_ is a horror-comedy and a social satire that comically exaggerates the anxieties attendant with marrying into a wealthy family and mocks the insular nature of such families, so obsessed with their wealth that they've become disconnected from the real world. And whilst it can be a tad episodic at times, and the manner in which it presents some of its violence is somewhat problematic, this is a very enjoyable and funny film that's well worth checking out.
After a brief prologue, the film cuts to the wedding day of Grace (an exceptional Samara Weaving) and Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien). The Le Domas family started out printing playing cards but earned its fortune making board games, and the family has now become decadently wealthy, owning several sports franchises (when Grace asks Alex if they refer to themselves as an "empire", he half-jokingly says they prefer the term "dominion"). Several years previously, Alex turned his back on the family, even though he's in line to inherit the business, and it's only since he met Grace (a foster child eager to have a family to call her own) that he has started to rebuild bridges. His return to the fold has made his mother Becky (Andie McDowell) especially happy, and she makes sure Grace knows how appreciative she is. Alex's father, Tony (a barely sane Henry Czerny) is more ambivalent; he's polite and respectful to Grace, but she's convinced he doesn't like her. There's no such ambiguity with Helene (a hilariously acerbic Nicky Guadagni), Tony's sister, who makes no bones about the fact that she hates Grace. Elsewhere there's Alex's brother Daniel (Adam Brody), an alcoholic locked in a loveless marriage to Charity (Elyse Levesque), but who is deeply thankful that he has Alex back in his life. Offering Grace a get-out-of-jail card just prior to the wedding, Alex tells her if she wants to leave, he will let her go. She dismisses the offer, however, and the two are wed. Shortly thereafter, Alex and Daniel's cocaine-addicted sister Emilie (a wonderfully hapless Melanie Scrofano) and her husband Fitch Bradley (a scene-stealing Kristian Bruun) arrive at the estate, apologising for missing the ceremony. It's at this point that Alex explains a strange family tradition to Grace – whenever someone new marries into the clan, they must participate in a game, chosen at random by a mechanised box using a deck of cards (Charity got checkers when she married Daniel). Alex is worried that Grace might get the hide and seek card, but Tony assures him that's highly unlikely – stating that in his lifetime, only one person has ever gotten that card; Helene's husband (something of which we saw in the prologue). At a disturbingly austere ceremony, Grace is asked to operate the box and so the game can commence…and she receives the hide and seek card, with Tony explaining that the only way for her to win is to stay hidden until dawn. And so, Grace hides in the mansion, unaware that the family (_sans_ Alex) are arming themselves with crossbows, axes, hunting rifles, and assorted antique weaponry. This is no ordinary game of hide and seek.
The film's various psychoanalytical/satirical subtexts are fairly obvious – a lampooning of blue blood families clueless as to how the real world works, a savage deconstruction of the institution of marriage, and a gynocentric/fempowerment celebration of a woman fighting back against old-world patriarchy. In relation to these last two themes, nowhere are they more apparent than in Grace's wedding dress, that most classic symbol of marriage, which becomes dirtier and more damaged as the film progresses, with costume designer Avery Plewes using the dress to show the stages of Grace's symbolic dismantling of the institution of marriage (to survive the night, she must make the dress more conducive to running and hiding, which involves a lot of ripping and tearing). In this sense, each time Grace evades capture or strikes back against her pursuers, she is chipping away at the foundation of everything in which the Le Domas family believe, quite literally deconstructing the very concepts of marriage and old-world patriarchy.
Concerning the film's engagement with wealth, essentially it suggests that, yes, as we all know, the rich are very different from you and I, but could it be that not only are they different, maybe they're actually evil? Maybe their wealth is built on the suffering of others in a very literal sense and maybe the difficulty they have accepting it when someone who they see as their social inferior marries into their circle manifests itself in actual violence. Of course, it's not suggesting this with anything even approaching realism, and much of the film's humour comes from the Le Domas family itself; sure, they're wealthy, evil, violent, and powerful. But so too are they hilariously incompetent. For example, it's been so long since anyone has got the hide and seek card that everyone is a little fuzzy on the rules, and they spend a good chunk of the film arguing with one another about the hunt – people like Fitch and Charity want to use modern weapons, but Tony maintains they have to use antique weaponry, nor are they allowed to use the castle's security cameras to track Grace.
This all goes back to a century-old deal made between the family's original patriarch Victor and a mysterious traveller named Mr Le Bail, who may, or may not, be Satan. Le Bail promised Victor that the family would become hugely wealthy, but only if they maintained the tradition of having new family members play a game on their wedding night, laying out the rules for what was to happen if they got the hide and seek card. Tony argues that the rules can be no different from those originally established by Le Bail, but, really, his argument never amounts to much more than "_tradition...reasons_". The film makes no bones about the fact that the family is comically inept, and it gets a lot of laughs out of showing characters trying to get to grips with their weapon – from Fitch taking time out from the hunt to look up "how to use a crossbow" videos on YouTube to Emilie accidentally dispatching several maids due to her inability to handle her weapon (more on this in a moment).
Another theme, although one not developed to the extent of the above, is religion. Le Bail, for example, is believed by the family to be a demonic figure, and his name, obviously enough, is an anagram of Belial, the demon from the Tanakh, who is described in _The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness_, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, as the "King of Evil" and the "Prince of Darkness", and who would later form the basis for the Christian and Jewish depiction of Satan. On the other hand, Grace's name most likely references the idea of Divine grace, which is defined by _ChristianEducation.org_ as,
>_a sharing in the divine life. It is the infused presence of God, a presence that is supernatural, not merely natural. Human persons are not born in a state of grace. And there is nothing we can do ourselves to earn grace. Rather, divine grace is favour, and it is freely bestowed._
Elsewhere, the film depicts a pit of slaughtered goats, alluding to ritual animal sacrifice, which is a pre-Christian practice. Goats are also important in Christianity, especially in the practice of scapegoating, whereby a goat takes upon them the sins of the community and is cast into the desert, symbolically removing the taint of those sins (as per Leviticus 16:8-10; "_Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the LORD's lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness._") Along the same lines, Grace injures her hand on a nail, in a veiled reference to the Stigmata. However, whether or not we're supposed to interpret her as a Christ figure is hard to say as, although these references are interesting in isolation, they never really coalesce into anything concrete.
Looking at some other problems, despite its themes, the film is, generally speaking, very slight; it's short and it's silly, and it's not going to change your life or lead you down the road of esoteric revolution. The violence is also (somewhat) problematic. The film maintains the stance that the rich are insane and the violence they mete out is contemptible. However, some of the biggest laughs are reserved for Emilie's accidental killing of the maids. And I have to admit, I found the way she haplessly dispatches two of them exceptionally funny (especially her comment after the second one, "_why does this keep happening to me_"). Also funny is that after one of the kills, the family are trying to have a conversation, which is continually interrupted by the gurgling of a mortally wounded maid; until Helene takes an axe to her head. And again, I have to admit, I laughed a lot at that scene, even though I recognised that the film was essentially asking the audience to see this violence as funny but some of the violence elsewhere as not so much.
In this sense, it kind of wants to have its cake and eat it. In _Natural Born Killers_ (1994), Oliver Stone gets away with asking the audience to laugh at horrific violence because he's fairly consistent in depicting all violence as funny (whether it's being shot by a bullet that stops in mid-air, getting drowned in a fish tank and simultaneously beaten with a tire-iron, having a perfectly circular hole shot through your hand, or having your head literally ripped off by rioting inmates). Here, the film picks and chooses when the audience should laugh; it takes Grace's stakes seriously but also encourages us to laugh at some (and only some) of the violence, which is problematically inconsistent.
Nevertheless, as I said, these scenes did make me laugh, so make of that what you will (it may say more about me than the film). Although _Ready or Not_ is slight, its satirical ire is focused, even if the tendency towards irreverence doesn't always chime with the tone of the socio-political agenda. Is it the greatest horror-comedy of all time? Good Lord, no. Indeed, it doesn't have much in the way of scares at all. But it sure is funny, allegorically skewering inherited wealth, marriage, tradition, even religion on occasion. With atavistic rules and sense of entitlement, the Le Domas family embody the concept that old-money can lead to an insularity from modernity, preventing the work-a-day world from entering their gated estates. Offering us a match, the film suggests that perhaps the only way to deal with such irrelevancies and their sense of self-importance is to burn them to the ground. And it has a blast showing us why.