This article contains Ready or Not spoilers.We have a spoiler free review here.
In-laws are the worst, right? It certainly will be one of several takeaways Grace (Samara Weaving) carries from her brief marriage into the Le Domas brood. While the actual contract between her and Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien) turned out to be a short one, it had memories that’ll last a lifetime. Just think how nice it’ll be to reflect on that time he revealed to her that his family practices ritualistic sacrifice to the Dark One, although they call him “Mr. Le Bail?” Or there was that time her brother-in-law saved her life long enough so that she could smash his mother’s face in. And, of course, the bridegroom hailing Satan while trying to sacrifice her—only to then finding out there are no take-backs—is a chestnut she can bring up at cocktail parties again and again.
They say failure can be our greatest teacher, so Grace learned a lot from her marriage. Probably more than anything though, the big lesson is don’t make a deal with Mr. Le Bail for material gain. Still, how did she wind up in that breathless finale where one by one, her new family burst into fumes of gore? Well, the short answer is because this movie is awesome. But the longer one helps reveal why it so awesome.
The concept of Ready or Not, like The Most Dangerous Game before it, is about wealthy elite hunting suspicious interlopers for sport. Except it isn’t exactly sport for the Le Domas. As the movie details, none of them are natural hunters or killers despite apparently making frequent blood oaths by way of slaughtered goats. Rather they feel beholden (and bedeviled) by a deal that goes back about five generations. It was in a distant 19th century past that “great-grandfather” made a deal with Mr. Le Bail: If he solved the riddle of a magic box that represented a game of chance, he would become a wealthy man.
While it is only vaguely hinted for most of the runtime what that deal is, the game box has the immediate foreboding of the puzzle cube in Hellraiser. If you saw the trailer for Ready or Not, you’d know the premise is that the box will spit out a card that requires a deadly game of hide-and-seek, much to the newlyweds’ chagrin. However, this is not always the case. The only reason Alex would ever marry a woman he at least purports to love is that in 30 years of family add-ons, his kin has only had to play this game once. Indeed, it is the opening scene of the movie when he and brother Daniel see, as children, their new uncle carted off for some unseemly slaughter.
Yet Alex was under the delusion that they would be required to play something as pedantic as Old Maid, and he could then leave his ancestral home again, never telling Grace she inadvertently has married into a family that has sold their souls to the Devil. In retrospect, that’s a pretty big red flag about the guy right there. At the beginning though, they only have vaguely suggested to Grace that this is a game they’re required to play for Mr. Le Bail, whose patronage has helped make the family rich. The implication is that by being willing to sacrifice their own—or better yet, one of those from the lower classes—that Satan has made them wealthy. It’s also suggested that most, if not all, wealthy families have made similar arrangements with Beelzebub. While other members of the family—especially those who’ve married into it—doubt the authenticity of this deal, patriarchal Tony Le Domas (Henry Czerny) suggests another family that didn’t execute a damned initiate was in turn slaughtered by black magic. It was simply a “house fire” according to the media.
This pretext offers great comedy, with blue bloods being forced to use weapons from the mid-19th century to hunt Grace as if she were an 1850s leopard. There is also the fun wrinkle that not until the end are the family members any surer than the viewer that they’ll actually be burned in flames if they fail to kill Grace before dawn. Initially, brother Daniel (Adam Brody) seems disengaged with hunting Grace because he does like her—and apparently flirts with her—but also because he has a lot of skepticism about whether they are actually doomed.
But once you step away from the “will they or won’t they blow up” mystery, the subtext it offers is delicious. It would appear that all of the younger adult Le Domas have married someone who is at least of a lesser status. As Daniel says as a critique of his wife Charity (Elyse Levesque), she didn’t hesitate for a moment to sell her soul to gain his family’s wealth. The suggestion is that in American life (or just general capitalism), no one minds literally stepping on others, even family, to get ahead and become the most privileged one percent.
Intriguingly, Alex tried to get away from that. He claims he loves Grace more than he does the rest of his family, and he certainly makes her ability to survive so long possible by giving her sneakers and then destroying the security camera system. Yet his mother (Andie MacDowell) knows him better than he knows himself. She says he will put his family first, and he also overhears Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni) say that he is destined to lead this family after Tony is gone. This is Mr. Le Bail’s great test. One could view his ultimate submission to this mantle as a tragic fall since he only commits to being a true Le Domas after he thinks Grace has killed his beloved brother Daniel and his mother to boot.
I don’t buy that for a second. Obviously, we know that Grace only killed the latter. Daniel, meanwhile, died saving her from his own wife. Nonetheless, Alex never loved Grace; he loved the idea of her. Like many a poor little rich boy, Alex tried to rebel against his family’s affluence and arrogance by pretending he was above it. He found a girl who was the polar opposite of them: Grace has no family ties, growing up an orphan, and as a child of the state she certainly didn’t learn to expect opulence. It is for this reason he didn’t tell her the true dimensions of what marrying into the Le Domas mean. He is playing at being virtuous, and by extension he is playing her. He likes to imagine himself as the good guy who was above all this petty Satanism, but he never truly abdicated it.
After all, he believes it enough to insist that Grace marry him at his family home, as per the Mr. Le Bail deal, and to play the game of chance. If she had pulled any other card, she’d have never known what she signed up for, but their nuptials were always doomed. Mama was right when she says he rushed into marriage after 18 months. While real lifelong romances can begin in such a short span, he married her because he loved the idea of wallowing in what he perceives as her simplicity. He’s the rich guy who “slums it with the poor” until it’s no longer convenient.
The irony is Daniel was the better guy even though he stayed. In the end, he didn’t free Grace because he disbelieved in the dark magic. He’s unsure and thus feigns apathy in the first act of the movie, but then he sees his sister Emilie’s son. Moments after she says that they must kill Grace to save her sweet innocent babes, they find the kid lying in the stables—Grace had knocked him out when he shot her in the hand. The kid didn’t bat an eyelid, saying he did what the rest of his family would have done (in fact, he was more effective than the whole lot of them). It was at that moment Daniel realized either:
a) they are deluding themselves and murdering people for no reason. Or…
b) Even if there is a Mr. Le Bail, they still deserve to die. There is no innocence among them.
So he does the right thing and poisons everyone else. If they’re crazy, they’ll have a bad stomachache. If they’re not, they deserve what they get.
Which brings us to the end and Grace watching all those in-laws explode into crimson mists. It is a gonzo sequence that elevates the whole movie with the fizzy charm of champagne bubblies. While I appreciate the abundance of “elevated horror” in the 21st century, Ready or Not eschews ambiguity and instead embraces bug nuts hysteria.
Grace is wonderfully played by Samara Weaving as a soul who is at first quietly wounded by her lack of family, but then becomes quickened with a bloodlust to remove any new binding ties. When Alex was romanticizing himself, he picked her because she was everything they weren’t. That is why she fears her mother-in-law views her to be a golddigger, but the truth is she simply lacks the conditioning (they would say “breeding”) to assume ritualistic sacrifice is normal… or a privilege given at birth. Her moral clarity is why she is on the slab at the end, and hubby is above her with the knife.
Luckily, by avoiding their generational coddling, Grace proved resourceful enough to outlive their stacked against her game, beating the time limit. Hence why she’s alive come dawn and they’re going poof. Mr. Le Bail takes them all, but sweetly saves Alex for last. As Grace, ever so satisfyingly, cackles with the audience at these windbags’ demise, Alex belatedly renounces his evil. “You saved me, baby.”
There’s no salvation for this kind of greed though, even if you recite public pieties–or are named Charity for that matter.
Grace demands her divorce and gets it in a red gush. How marvelous.
As she sits outside, smoking her cigarette, she rests easy in the smoldering ruin of the House of Le Domas. Viva la revolución.