*. Family is one of the great sources of horror in our time. I’ve mentioned before how for Stephen King the breakdown of the nuclear family is his one great theme. In other movies, however, that process has already advanced quite a ways. Think of Norman Bates wanting to introduce Marion Crane to his dear old mom in Psycho. Think of the family that slays together staying together in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, or the mutant clan in The Hills Have Eyes. Really, I think the list is endless. I’ve only mentioned franchise originals here but you see the same thing even in obscure one-offs like Spider Baby. Family is hell.
*. Anxiety over our family’s weirdness, or over awful in-laws, also feeds into our fascination with disturbing “meet the folks” stories. A couple of obvious precursors to Ready or Not here are You’re Next (2011) and Get Out (2017). In both those films a new girlfriend/boyfriend is invited to the wealthy family estate only to end up fighting for their lives. To the main theme, that family is hell, a political message is added: rich people are murderous bastards.
*. This isn’t to criticize Ready or Not for being a rip-off, though I thought the similarities between Erin in You’re Next and Grace in this movie to be pretty direct (the bloodied battle-bride also recalls Clara from Rec 3, but that’s another sort of movie altogether). I just think it’s interesting to note the sort of conventions that are being evoked.
*. While I’m at it, I’ll also mention another horror sub-genre in play: the Game of Death. These are movies where a character or a group of characters has to somehow survive a challenge, the prize being life. One later Game of Death movie I was reminded of here was Would You Rather, which is one of the few that has a political angle, with the contestants playing the game at a millionaire’s mansion for his entertainment.
*. What anxiety does the Game of Death address? I’d guess it has something to do with the natural desire for life to have a kind of rough justice. Most of life is pretty unfair. The way the Le Domas family insists on following correct procedures and keeping with tradition is actually reassuring. Yes it’s brutal, but unlike the game of life this game has rules.
*. None of the other films I’ve talked about so far are even mentioned in passing in the “making of” documentaries included with the DVD, or in the filmmakers’ commentary. I actually thought the team behind this one, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett of Radio Silence, would have said a bit more. But I guess it’s something they didn’t want to talk about. Was it something they were thinking about though?
*. I can’t tell. What I was hoping for was some further discussion of the political angle, but they say very little about this. Is it because this isn’t all that political a movie? It’s interesting to note that the only movie of those I’ve mentioned that really tries to make a political statement is Get Out, and it mixes race with class. But in You’re Next, Would You Rather, and Ready or Not, despite things being teed up nicely with the depiction of plutocrat families that are not just dysfunctional but savage and degenerate, there’s no broader political point being made.
*. These aren’t really movies about class struggle. To take just one example from Ready or Not, Daniel’s wife Charity makes no bones about having been born on the wrong side of the tracks and having married Daniel for his money. So she’s Grace, only she had an easier challenge. Among the family members, it seems only crazy Aunt Helene with her punk haircut and battle-axe is into the hunt. Meanwhile, the downstairs staff at the mansion are all as complicit in the deadly game, if not more so, than the family they serve.
*. One good twist on the formula is having the family itself consist of a bunch of upper-class twits who don’t seem capable of tying their own shoes. This is the source of all of the humor but it also makes a satiric point. The fact is, there’s is inherited wealth that they’ve done nothing to earn so they aren’t particularly capable or good at anything. They sold their souls to the devil to get rich, which is sort of like winning the lottery.
*. Well, there’s no sense complaining about this not being a movie it isn’t trying to be. I would have liked it to be a bit angrier, and perhaps that was how it was originally envisaged. On the commentary track they say that the first draft of the screenplay had Grace dying at the end, which suggests something a lot darker (and probably less commercial). What they ended up with something more generic and predictable, but it works. I wasn’t a fan of V/H/S, but Southbound was pretty good and I liked Ready or Not too. Radio Silence is getting better. I’m looking forward to what they do next.