Grace’s [Samara Weaving] wedding should be the happiest day of her life. She’s marrying the man of her dreams, Alex [Mark O’Brien]. Grace also couldn’t be more thrilled to become a member of the Le Domas clan, a filthy rich and eccentric family known for creating a game board empire. However, Grace soon discovers a sinister time-honoured tradition may give new meaning to the vow, “Till death do us part.”
“What excited us so much about this project from the jump is that it was this really fun mix of a bunch of different tones,” explained co-director Tyler Gillett of the Radio Silence collective [V/H/S, DEVIL’S DUE, SOUTHBOUND]. “That certainly comes with the challenge of walking that tightrope and making sure the movie still feels like this cohesive and complete thought, and not this schizophrenic thing jumping lanes throughout the narrative. But it was so baked into the script, this fun mix of tones. It’s what we love about so many different genres, but all wrapped into one.”
“This may be cliché at this point, but it does feel like we are in a bit of a renaissance right now where there is so much good, top-notch genre stuff coming out that’s not just appealing to niches anymore,” co-director Matt Bettinelli-Olpin added. “It’s not just us and our friends. Everybody is excited when a new horror movie comes out. I feel I haven’t experienced that in a long time. The cultural shift is exciting.”
READY OR NOT, a Fox Searchlight production coming to the USA on August 21st (27th September in the UK), follows Grace, a newlywed who gets coerced into participating in a rousing round of Hide and Seek in order to be accepted by her husband’s family. There’s only one small catch. Armed with a crossbow, shotgun, axe, blades and various other weapons, the Le Domas begin to hunt Grace down, believing if they fail to slaughter her before sunrise, something terrible will befall the family. As the chase escalates, the Le Domas quickly discover they are messing with the wrong blushing bride.
“We got sent the script in February 2015,” Bettinelli-Olpin said. “We pitched on it. They went with somebody else, so we didn’t get the job. That was that. Then it came back around in February 2016. They were like, ‘Are you guys still interested in pitching on this?’ And we were like, ‘Yeah, we loved it. We would love to. Please get us back in the room.’ We went back in, and that was February 2016. Then we got the official ‘Let’s do this’ with Searchlight about a year later.
“The longest draft we had was 110 pages,” he continued. “We cut at least 20 by the time we were actually shooting, and by us, I mean the writers, the producers and everyone involved, just working on it to get it down to its core elements and something we could shoot on a budget. Throughout that process, there were one or two major changes that happened.”
“When we took it out to pitch it to studios, one of the things that we had done as part of that process is design a look-book, a little bit of a walk through of how we visualised the movie,” Gillett elaborated. “One of the images we created that we were using on the pages of look-book was an old Monopoly board that had this strange clip art…different drugs, different weapons, the maids… We designed a Monopoly board that was based on the characters and the sensibility of the movie. We splattered it with blood and photoshop. That was the thing that cemented the weird tone of the project visually. That was created early, and it carried us through the entire pitch process. It was something that when people saw it, they understand the weird entirety and satire of the project.”
Once all the details were ironed out, the filmmakers lined up a solid cast. The key talent includes Andie MacDowell, Adam Brody, Henry Czerny, Melanie Scrofano, Kristian Bruun and the aforementioned O’Brien. As for leading lady Weaving, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett never actually auditioned the Australian actress. Instead, Fox Searchlight suggested her, the trio met, and everything clicked. Ironically, Weaving – in a separate conversation – admits horror never did much for her.
“Breaking out into horror was always a happy accident,” Weaving said in a separate phone call. “I remember auditioning for a small role in the TV show ASH VS EVIL DEAD and then auditioning for THE BABYSITTER, which is more of a comedy-horror. After THE BABYSITTER, the ball started rolling from there. It’s great being a part of, especially because I don’t necessarily love horror movies. I love thrillers and horror-comedies. I wouldn’t go see the new IT, but I love WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, ZOMBIELAND and BEETLEJUICE. I love those kinds of films. And I think being a part of them makes it easier to watch because at least I know what’s happening when there are jump scares. So, when I go the premiere, I’m ready.”
“When Fox Searchlight came to me with it, what really resonated with me was Grace, who I play, had been in and out of foster care,” she continued. “That triggered a train of thought of, ‘Oh, she’s seen some things. She’s scrappy. She’s tough. Of course, she is going to be surprised and shocked, but she knows how to handle herself. Grace hasn’t been in this situation, by any means, but I like that there is a strength behind her.’ We spoke about that a lot. I hope that comes across because I wanted to steer away from the cliché of ‘woman barely makes it out alive’ or she runs up the stairs, which is the wrong way. She’s very calculated. Even in desperate times, she has a strength about her, which I really loved to play with.”
Indeed, Grace proves much more capable than the typical damsel in distress. Rather than accept her fate, Grace’s survival instincts kick in… and she fights back. In other words, the Le Domas better watch out!
“The thing that we loved about the Grace character, and how she locks the audience into the story, is that she starts out innocently thinking that it’s obviously strange that this family feels like they have to play a board game for her to be initiated into the Le Domas clan,” Gillett offered. “But it feels innocent at the beginning, which is what is so fun about the first act. She’s playing Hide and Seek, thinking. ‘This is great and fun and intense’ because, we are familiar with the rules of Hide and Seek. She doesn’t obviously imagine the family is going to kill her.”
“When we were talking about the evolution of Grace’s character was to make sure she wasn’t this weak wallflower at the beginning who becomes this super-tough, capable survivor at the end,” Bettinelli-Olpin noted. “She wanted to make sure the character was incredibly real, incredibly grounded and had a point of view that was interesting and believable throughout the movie. What’s so fun about the movie is it’s all about the stacking of the obstacles. Sam was like, ‘No. I want to approach this as someone who is capable of great things at the beginning.’ Then it’s the tale of the story to stack one crazy thing on top of the other and really put this person, who is a badass, totally at odds with everything. We are so grateful she is all about that and made the choices that she did.”
The movie’s script called for a sprawling manor, where Grace could zig and zag through a maze of corridors and secret passageways. After scouting various locations in the Toronto area, production eventually secured a few places that suited their needs. Those structures included the Old-World mansion Casa Loma and the Parkwood Estate in the suburb of Oshawa.
“It was tricky,” Gillett admitted. “We were looking at big, modern houses. We needed to see the biggest possible thing that we can find. All of these places that we were finding were contemporary homes that didn’t have this dark, old-world, almost Gothic feel to them. But they were so open. The way people build houses now, they are these giant open-floor plans that feel like airplane hangars with a kitchen at one end and a bathroom at the other. We ended up having to go to these older manors. Once we were on that track, we knew exactly the right places.”
Audiences heading out to catch READY OR NOT can expect some gruesome antics. A shotgun blasts off a portion of a maid’s face. Another member of the house staff falls victim to a crossbow arrow. Grace experiences plenty of emotional and physical torment in attempting to escape. However, the piece de resistance finds Grace sprayed with loads of blood as she confronts her attackers.
“That was funny,” Weaving recalled. “We had 40 [wedding] dresses. The costume department had their work cut out for them with all the different stages of the dress. And we weren’t filming in order. We were going back and forth in time. But, being covered in blood, I am kind of getting used to it by now. It’s never that much fun. They use this syrup, which tastes delicious, by the way. It tastes like a caramel syrup. But when it’s in your hair or on your body, you can’t move your arms without it sticking to you.
“The actual explosions going off… We were in such a beautiful place, we had to be really careful with candles and ensuring we didn’t destroy any of the gorgeous surroundings or furniture or walls,” said Weaving. “We only had one, maybe two takes, especially when the camera is on me. Otherwise, we’d have to scrub me all the way down again. The thing about that was just trying to stay in the moment and not focus on the fact that we have one take to do this. You have to go into the theatre mind-frame and react as you would.”
“What we hoped to do was give you a moment early on where you do see something very graphic and you know the movie can go there, but then you don’t have to,” stated Gillett. “There’s a lot that happens off screen. What you imagine that off-screen action to be is always more interesting than being up close and personal with it. That’s how we treated it. It’s more about being on the character’s reaction than it is about being in the gore itself. Of course, it’s useful at times to shock people into the reality of the situation. But there are only a few instances where we are very explicit.”
As the interview winds down with the directing duo, the conversation turns to the subject of themes. READY OR NOT touches on some of the big ones: Love. Marriage. Family. Tradition. In the end, Gillett believes the film mainly tackles another relevant issue.
“At its heart, this movie is about inheritance… the shit that you inherit from family, good and bad,” Gillett concluded. “It’s hard to sometimes separate the idea of inheritance from entitlement. We were very aware going into this of the design of who and what the family is, and the optics of who and what they are. And wanting to tell a story about these characters who are conflicted about that, but also feel it’s impossible to distance themselves from it and ultimately when they make the choice to buy in whole heartedly, there are consequences to that. That was certainly one of the guiding themes.”
Words: Bryan Cairns