*Ready Or Not* And the Romance of Murdering the Rich
An anti-romcom skewers Cinderella and all her heirs
For Valentine’s Day I rewatched one of my favorite films of the 2010s, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett gloriously mean-spirited anti-romcom Ready Or Not.
Ready Or Not starts off where most romcom’s end. When the film begins, the poor orphan girl, Grace (Samara Weaving), has already met, fallen in love with, and participated in the ritual “bone-a-thon” with Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), the scion of an obscenely wealthy family. The vastly wealthy man of her dreams has already swept her off her feet; all that’s left is the wedding and the happily ever after.
Then things go awry. The Le Domas family made its money in games—and if that seems improbable, it’s because they actually made their money by signing a deal with the devil. Every time someone marries into the family, they have to draw a card from a magic box. If the card says “Hide and Seek”, the Le Domas clan has to murder their new in-law by dawn. Grace inevitably draws the bad hand.
The rich will eat you
The set up of Ready Or Not sounds clunky, and it kind of is. The execution though, is peerless. That’s in part thanks to a brilliant cast which revels in the pitch black comedy of the script. Nicky Guadagni as the battle-ax Aunt Helen wielding a literal battle ax is maybe the highlight, but Melanie Scrofano as Emilie, the hapless coke-snorting elder sister who keeps accidentally killing the maids and then whining about how life is so unfair to her, does her best to steal the gold.
What really makes the film, though, is its merciless, unflagging skewering (sometimes literally) of the rich.
A lot of Hollywood satire of the wealthy ends up sympathizing with them in one way or the other. Saltburn’s rich family is clueless and passive, so entirely unprepared when they’re targeted by the scheming rebellious prole you can’t help but feel bad for them. Knives Out turns on the conceit that at least one member of the Thrombey’s is at heart a kind person (if too clever for his own good.)
Ready or Not refuses to traffic in such half-assery. Yes, mother Becky Le Domas (Andie McDowell) has a down-to-earth, tell-it-like-it-is charm. Yes, drunken brother Daniel (Adam Brody) has qualms of conscience and makes vacillating attempts to help. Yes, Alex loves Grace and tries to get her away…at first. And yes, Emilie’s children are young and (as she insists) they don’t deserve to be lumped in with their asshole relatives just because the assholes are their relatives.
And yet. Becky’s pragmatism ultimately means she’s better able to get everyone to focus on tracking down Grace to kill her. Daniel’s ineffectual at best even when he sporadically tries to help Grace.
As for the kids—well, one of them shoots Grace in the hand, because his family is hunting her and he wants to be part of the family. Even the servants too, who you’d think would be on Grace’s side, are all too eager to ingratiate themselves by helping their patrons finish her off. “They’re after me, not you,” Grace assures one maid hiding from the escalating carnage. Immediately, in relief, said maid shouts to the family, “She’s here!”
The rich in this vision aren’t especially competent or effective; Grace, once she figures out what’s going on, is a lot more focused, ingenious, and deadly than any of her in-laws. Nor are the rich unremittingly cruel; most of the family would obviously rather not murder Grace—or at the very least, they don’t want to be the ones who actually finish her off.
But the Le Domas’ qualms are all swamped by their primary, overwhelming allegiance to their own family and their own class. The deal with the devil gave them their immense wealth, and if that wealth has to be watered with the blood of goats, or the occasional in-law, that’s the way it has to be. An unfair advantage was handed to them, and they will never let it go, no matter what atrocities they have to do to keep it. That, and not virtue, perspicacity, or competence, is what makes them rich.
Is being rich a happy ending?
If the wealthy—and not least the wealthy prince—have sold their souls, what does that mean about the impoverished, famliless protagonist who marries into wealth?
Daniel’s wife, Charity (the delightfully icy Elyse Levesque), we learn, didn’t even blink when Daniel told her about the ritual and the possibility that she might be killed by his family if she married him. She says, with great conviction, that she would rather die than return to poverty—and clearly she would rather kill as well. She got to marry Darcy/Christian Grey/the prince, and she wasn’t going to let go of that romance novel dream over a few moral hiccups. Perhaps Charity thought about Cinderella; as soon as she became a princess, her stepsisters have their eyes torn out. The ascension to power requires a sacrifice in blood.
Grace, I think, by the end of the film, has made that connection herself. If she had not drawn the unlucky card, and had joined the family, she’d have been required, at some point, to join husband Alex, bother Daniel, and mother Becky in hunting down and brutally murdering some other poor newlywed.
Grace rejects Alex, at the end of the film because she realizes that he only loves her as a possession; he was willing to risk her life because he thought if he told her the truth she’d leave him. But she also rejects him because she realizes that to be part of his family, to be wealthy, means to sell her soul.
Alex insists that Grace has made him a better person, but Alex has, for his part, made her worse—she’s killed people, and being part of the family means murdering more, over and over. The wealthy, contra many a romance narrative, can neither redeem nor be redeemed, because they’ve already given their heart to the devil—the devil in this case being simply their own determination to stay on top no matter what.
At the film’s end, Grace walks from the burning Le Domas mansion, still wearing her torn, ragged wedding dress, the color changed from white to red by her own blood and the blood of her ex-husband. The valentine Alex has given her, red and beating, is the knowledge that she deserves a better life than being rich. That’s one of those things you’d have liked to know before the wedding, maybe. But it’s never too late for divorce.