Friday, September 13, 2019

It Came From The Cineplex: Ready Or Not

Ready Or Not (not to be confused with 2012's Ready Or Not or 2009's Ready Or Not) was written by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy. It was directed by Matt Bettinellii-Olpin and Tyler Gillett.

Busick's written mostly for TV. His sole previous theatrical work was Urge (?). Murphy previously wrote The Mill At Calder's End segment of Minutes Past Midnight, whatever that is. Despite this apparent lack of talent, they did a decent job of fleshing out this well-worn and threadbare premise.

Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are apparently working partners, who previously directed the 10/31/98 segment of V/H/S and Devil's Due (oh, THEY'RE the ones).

Take equal parts Clue and The Most Dangerous Game, throw in a dash of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, stir them all together and you'll have a pretty good idea what this movie's about. The Clue resemblance is particularly strong, as both feature rich people in formal attire killing people inside a mansion.

You don't need to be a film scholar to recognize the movie's theme. It's the One Percent Vs. The Rabble. The Le Domas family is an over the top stand-in for greed and capitalism, and if they have to spill the blood of a few innocents to preserve the lifestyle to which they're accustomed, then so be it. 

This is nothing new, as the "Rich Against Poor" theme has been around since the dawn of cinema. It's just carried to outrageous and literal extremes here.

The movie goes for that "delightfully wicked/ fiendishly clever" dark comedy tone, but somehow never quite manages to completely capture it. The comedy's never taken quite far enough, making one wonder if the humor's deliberate or unintentional.

That said, at the very least it's a fairly original idea, and not another goddamned sequel, remake or soft reboot.

Earlier this year the Borg assimilated, er, I mean Disney bought 20th Century Fox Studios, the latest step in their plan to dominate the entire entertainment industry. Ready Or Not is distributed by Fox Searchlight, a division of Fox. That means that this R-rated dark comedy is officially a Disney movie!

So far the movie's grossed $39 million worldwide against its tiny $6 million budget. Even accounting for marketing, that makes it a modest box office hit.


The Plot:
As the movie opens, our hero Grace (no last names please) is about to marry her fiance Alex. He's a member of the fabulously wealthy Le Domas family, who made their vast fortune from their board & card game empire.

Grace is nervous that Alex's clan will never accept her, due to her less than blue blood. Alex, who's been estranged from his family for years, says screw 'em, as they're all horrible entitled asshole. Having never had a family of her own, Grace says she intends to do whatever it takes to fit in.

After the wedding, Grace and Alex retire to his old room to begin their honeymoon. They're interrupted by Alex's terrifying Aunt Helene, who says "It's time." Grace asks what's going on, and Alex explains that the family has a decades-old tradition, in which any new member has to play a game at midnight. This strikes Grace as odd, but she goes along with it.

Grace and Alex enter the family Game Room, where the entire La Domas clan is assembled. There's Alex's parents Tony & Becky, his younger brother Daniel & his wife Charity, Alex's drugged-out sister Emile and her husband Fitch, and of course Aunt Helene.

Tony explains that after the Civil War, his great-grandfather Victor Le Domas was traveling on a merchant ship and met a man named Le Bail. After becoming acquainted, Le Bail showed Victor a mysterious wooden Puzzle Box. Le Bail said if Victor could figure out how to open the box before they reached port, he'd finance any business he chose. Victor opened the box, and the Le Domas family has prospered ever since.

Tony says it's traditional for all new members of the family to draw a card from the Box and play whatever game it suggests. When Grace looks worried, Charity says it's no big deal, as her game was chess, while Fitch admits his was Old Maid.

Grace takes the Puzzle Box andpulls out a card which reads, "Hide & Seek." Alex visibly blanches at this, and asks if they're really going to do this. Tony looks sympathetic, but says rules are rules. He has their butler Stevens shut off the mansion's security cameras to ensure the game is played the way it would have been in Le Bail's time. Stevens does so, but also locks down the mansion so no one can escape (PLOT POINT).

Grace thinks it's all silly, but goes along with it. Tony plays a bizarre kids' song on a record player, and says Grace has until it's over to hide. She wanders through the mansion looking for a good hiding place. Eventually she climbs into a dumbwaiter and closes the door behind her.

Meanwhile, the La Domas family reveals that this isn't just ANY game of Hide & Seek— it's to the death! They open a secret closet and arm themselves with various antique weapons, then head out to find Grace.

Grace sits in the dumbwaiter for a while, then has enough and exits. Alex finds her and begs her to just leave with him. She refuses, as she wants to be part of a family for once in her life. Just then Emilie enters, sees Grace and tries to shoot her. In her coked-up state she kills a maid instead. 
Alex and Grace flee.

Grace demands to know what's going on, and Alex explains that his family's deadly serious about the game. They believe if they don't kill Grace before dawn, they'll all die at the hand of Mr. Le Bail. Grace says that's crazy, and demands to know why Alex didn't tell her all this BEFORE they were married. He says he was afraid she'd leave him if he did. Alex tells Grace to head for the kitchen exit, while he deactivates the security system and unlocks all the doors.

There's a series of near-misses as Grace encounters various La Domasesses, and another maid's accidentally killed. Grace runs into Daniel, who also hates his family and allows her to escape before "alerting" the others.

Alex manages to deactivate the security system and unlock the doors, but is discovered by the others and captured. They label him a traitor to the family and handcuff him to his old bed.

Grace eventually reaches the kitchen, but is blocked by Stevens, who's making tea. She manages to knock him out and escape the mansion.

Stevens wakes up and informs the family what happened, and says he'll capture Grace. As the others worry about what'll happen if she escapes, Emilie accidentally shoots the third and final maid.

Grace makes it to the front gate, but finds it's locked. She hears Stevens approaching, so she hides in a goat barn. Inside she's shot in the hand by Emilie's young son Georgie and falls into a festering pit full of former Le Domas victims.

She manages to climb out of the pit and squeeze through the iron bars of the fence, slashing her back in the process. She flags down an approaching car, and is stunned to see it's being driven by Stevens. He captures her, but she fights back and knocks him out.

Grace drives off in Stevens' car, but when she uses the fake OnStar service to call the police, they say the car's been reported stolen (?) and remotely shut it down. Stevens wakes, somehow catches up to the car and tranquilizes her. As he's driving her back to the mansion, she comes to (??) and causes the car to crash, killing Stevens.

As Grace runs through the woods she encounters Daniel. He knocks her out and brings her back to the mansion. Grace wakes to find herself tied to a table, as the La Domas family prepares to sacrifice her in a satanic ritual. As part of the ceremony, everyone drinks wine from a cop (except for Daniel). Suddenly they all begin violently vomiting, and realize the wine was poisoned.

Daniel reveals he non-lethally (???) poisoned his family, because they're all terrible assholes who deserve to die. He unties Grace and they run off together. They encounter Daniel's wife Charity, who shoots and kills him. During all this hubbub, the mansion is accidentally set on fire.

Grace then runs into Becky, who attacks her. She almost defeats Grace, until she grabs the Puzzle Bbox and beats Becky to death with it.

Meanwhile, Alex escapes his cuffs and discovers Daniel's dead body. He thinks Grace killed him, and believes she'll do the same to him the first chance she gets. He finds Grace and captures her, alerting the rest of his family.

The La Domasesses then attempt to kill Grace yet AGAIN. Just then, Aunt Becky pulls open a curtain, revealing the dawn. The family members all hiss at the sight of the sun and duck down. After a beat they realize nothing's happening, and laugh at their silly superstition. Aunt Helene grabs a ceremonial dagger and just as she's about to stab Grace, she violently explodes in a fountain of blood & tissue!

One by one, every member of the family (including the kids!) explodes. Alex lingers a while longer, and begs for Grace to forgive him, saying they can still make it work. She pulls off her wedding ring and tosses it to him, saying she wants a divorce. Alex promptly explodes.

Just then the fire spreads to the Game Room. Before she exits, Grace glances at a chair and sees the ghostly image of Mr. Le Bail appear and nod. She exits the burning mansion and sits on the front steps. The fire department arrives, and a paramedic approaches Grace and asks what happened. She replies, "In-laws."


• As stated in the intro, Ready Or Not was directed by Matt Bettinellii-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. I often wonder about just how these co-director situations work. Do they both stand around yelling, "Action?" What if one of them gets an idea and the other hates it? Do they compromise or battle it out? It just seems like a disaster waiting to happen. 

Plus there's the fact that two directors are likely gonna have two completely different visions, which will water down the film's focus. Seems like it'd be infinitely better for a movie to have one voice, and one hand at the helm.

Whenever I see co-directors in a movie's credits, I always think of The Office, when Oscar commented on Michael and Jim becoming co-managers: "Look, it doesn't take a genius to know that every organization thrives when it has two leaders. Go ahead, name a country that doesn't have two presidents. A boat that sets sail without two captains. Where would Catholicism be without the popes?"

• I spent a good half of the movie thinking I was watching actress Margot Robbie in the lead. And why not? Grace looks exactly like her!

Eventually I figured out it wasn't Robbie, and I sat wondering who I the hell I was watching. Turns out Grace was played by Samara Weaving. She's an Australian actress (as is Margot Robbie!), so I'm not overly familiar with her. The only things she's been in that I've seen is Monster Trucks (!) and I honestly don't remember her in it.

She's also the niece of actor Hugo Weaving, of The Matrix and The Lord Of The Rings fame.

Somebody needs to cast Samara Weaving and Margot Robbie as sisters, STAT!

 Ready Or Not features quite a large cast, and the filmmakers did a pretty good job of making them all distinct from one another. Most only had a few seconds of screentime to establish their characters, but that was all that was needed to inform us of 

The only exception is Alex, who's the blandest of the bunch. He also lacked any clear motivation, as his reasons for going along with the game were woefully weak and he constantly switched sides. He's the least interesting character in the movie, and makes one wonder what Grace ever saw in him in the first place.

• Lately I've been ranting a lot about the sorry state of modern movie posters, as most are artless, Photoshopped monstrosities.
To my surprise, Ready Or Not actually features a fairly decent poster. Sure, there's not a line of actual art in it, as it's been cobbled together from dozens of photographs. But they did an admirable job of making it look like a piece of vintage art or a Daguerreotype.

• After the wedding ceremony, Alex and Grace enjoy and intimate moment in his old room. Aunt Helene then barges in on them and growls, "You're going to need to hide better than that!"

Wait, what? Obviously she's referring to the Hide & Seek game here. But Grace hasn't drawn the card from the machine yet. There's no way Helene could have known that's the game they were about to play.

Did the family reeeeeally not approve of Grace, and rigged the game so they could get rid of her?

• Grace & the others gather in the Game Room, where Tony explains the Le Domas family tradition. Charity tells Grace not to worry, as she picked chess, and Fitch got Old Maid. 

Presumably those were both ordinary games and they didn't play to the death. The others non-blood family members probably played normal games as well.

So why is Hide & Seek the only lethal game? Is it like Russian Roulette? Does the Puzzle Box contain eleven safe game cards, and one deadly one?

• Missed Opportunity: As I mentioned in the intro, Ready Or Not bears a strong resemblance to Clue. Heck, the movie's even about a family that made its fortune from board games! 

So it would have been a fun little touch if the Le Domas family armed themselves with the weapons from the Clue game: knife, revolver, monkey wrench, lead pipe, rope and candlestick. As is, the only weapon used from the game is a revolver. Pity.

• Grace is a perfect example of the "Blood-Splattered Bride" trope. I'm not sure why this particular symbol is so popular, but it pops up quite a bit in action and exploitation films. Maybe it's something to do with the contrast between virginal innocence and bloody gore.

• Speaking of brides, there were a whopping seventeen different versions of Grace's wedding dress created for the film. According to costume designer Avery Plewes, each gown was a bit more dirtied and distressed and bloodied than the last, illustrating Grace's ordeal as she attempted to escape from the mansion.

• When Grace escapes the mansion and tries to slip through the wrought iron fence, she injures herself on a decorative metal leaf that severely slashes her back.

A bit later, Stevens drives by and shines a flashlight on the spot where she escaped. We can clearly see that the metal leaves are only in the center of the fence. There are no sharp, pointy filigrees in the bottom third. All Grace had to do was crouch down a bit and she doulc have crawled through the fence without slicing herself open.

• Grace manages to incapacitate Stevens and steal his car. As she roars down the road, she uses a royalty-free version of OnStar (TripSafe?) to try and call the police. The operator immediately notes her car was reported as stolen, and remotely shuts it down.

Note that just forty seconds pass between the time Grace got in the car and when it's deactivated. Forty seconds! 

Wow! That Stevens must have really been on the ball. He managed to regain consciousness, shake his head a few times to clear his mind, take out his cell phone, dial 911, get an answer and report his car as stolen— all in just forty short seconds. I'll let the reader decide if that's anywhere near enough time for even ONE of those things to happen.

• Daniel and Becky are both killed before dawn. Did they explode once the sun came up too, or did their bodies just lie there?

• As in most action movies, Ready Or Not features the old "Impossible To Explain What Happened To The Authorities" ending. Grace manages to win in the end, but she's gonna have to do a LOT of explaining to the police. 

Think about it— the Le Domas family have all mysteriously disappeared, and she's covered from head to toe with their blood. Daniel was shot & killed, while Becky's head was flattened (it's unclear if their corpses exploded after dawn as well). There's also a goat pit containing three recently murdered maids. Just outside the grounds is a stolen car containing the body of Stevens. And to top it all off, the mansion's been set ablaze.

Technically Grace is only responsible for two of those deaths, and even then they were in self defense. Despite that, it's going to be very difficult to convince the authorities that the family exploded and she didn't kill them all and set fire to the house to cover up her crimes. Grace is mostly likely going to prison.

Ready Or Not is a reasonably entertaining dark comedy, that's also a thinly disguised metaphor for the war between the classes. Sadly, the comedy never quite gels, as it doesn't go far enough. The film features a great cast, but sadly most of them aren't given enough to do. But hey, at least it's not a remake! I give it a respectable B.

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