In the broadest terms, Ready or Not is about a bunch of rich people hunting down a woman of modest means who’d thought she’d landed her prince charming. Instead, she learns quickly, she’s entered into a kind of You’re Next meets Mayhem, a plot thick with violence that becomes not-so-subtly imbued with issues of class and matrimonial tension. A pit of corpses reek of privilege, a split skill opened by an errant bullet widens like the wealth gap, a knock-down, drag-out fist fight ends in a deflated head, sucked of its status as quickly as its life. If it sounds vaguely like The Hunt, the other movie about a flock of bloodthirsty one percenters who are armed to the teeth while those less fortunate dodge gun fire, it’s because it is.
Though unlike The Hunt, which was shelved days after two deadly shootings in the U.S. (and one day after President Trump criticized the film on Twitter), Ready or Not has been met with glowing reviews. Ahead of its release, the movie’s marketing team pushed forward the image of Samara Weaving’s blood-spattered, shotgun-toting bride as the face of the film — and critics have responded with glee at her performance. The R-rated horror-comedy hit theaters on Wednesday, in a bid to grab age-appropriate students before they head back to school. It will play in a total of 2,820 theaters, representing the widest release in Fox Searchlight’s history, positioning it to pull in as much as $10 million in its five-day debut. The fact that Ready or Not — the product of co-directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, together with their long-time collaborator, executive producer Chad Villella — is releasing with fanfare into a particularly tense American moment is not lost on the filmmakers.
“Every horrible thing that happens — which seems to be every other week now — it’s just unbearable!” Bettinelli-Olpin tells Vulture, ahead of Ready or Not’s release. “Why have we gotten to the place where we can have two or three shootings on a single weekend, and in a week or two we move on and it’s not on the front page of the paper? Gun violence is not new. Gun violence is not going to go away, and neither is obscene privilege and racism and bigotry. Those things will be around for the foreseeable future.”
Ready or Not involves gun violence, yes, but it’s also a staunch critique of privilege, away from which the filmmakers do not shy. Operating under the name Radio Silence, Gillett, Bettinelli-Olpin, and Villella have contributed vignettes to horror anthologies V/H/S and Southbound, and made the feature Devil’s Due. After one failed pitch in 2015 to direct the Ready or Not script for Fox Searchlight, the team took another stab in February 2016. In November of that year — the day after Donald Trump won the presidential election, in fact — Searchlight gave the three men a green light. Given the sentiment of half of the American population at the time, the filmmakers endeavored to create something that was both a raucous escape and also a skewering of the depravity and detachment of extreme wealth.
“Horror is just such a fun sandbox to play in, because you get to have a conversation about real, thematically dense, important things,” Gillett says. “Shit that maybe you normally wouldn’t talk about — in this really fun, digestible, theatrical format.”
Ready or Not was always meant to be a horror-comedy, but the trio say they made slight adjustments to the script after it was bought. They tweaked the ending to make for a more “cathartic” finale, resulting in a stunningly blood-soaked closing scene that releases the tension after a breakneck 90 minutes — and a relentlessly dreary news cycle, if you’re in need of relief. The directors charged headlong into cartoonish amounts of gore, but say gratuitous bloodletting is not part of their playbook. All three filmmakers, much like Purge creator James DeMonaco, actually abhor guns, and it’s a recurring theme throughout Ready or Not that the violent instigators either come off as buffoons or pay penance in one way or another for their heavily armed hubris.
“There’s never a moment of violence that we want to represent that doesn’t matter for really specific character or story reasons. It has to push things forward. It has to illuminate something on a character level or a stakes level. We’re not interested in violence for violence’s sake,” says Gillett, with Bettinelli-Olpin adding: “It’s a constant conversation, and we have to be aware of it, because we do think there is a responsibility, when you’re making things for mass consumption, to not be cavalier about it, to think about what you’re saying.”
The filmmakers, however, also draw a distinction between being conscientious and being hesitant. Each of them credits Fox Searchlight with heavily supporting Ready or Not, and even pushing them to make “the most original, heightened, fun, weird version of the movie.” It’s an experience they all recognize as rare at the studio level, and stands in contrast to Universal’s reported early apprehensions about making The Hunt and its eventual decision to cancel the movie’s theatrical release date.
“The studio really believed in it,” Weaving tells Vulture, speaking highly of the way the film was marketed and promoted. “I think that where films get shorthanded is when no one knows about it and they can’t see it.”
In the end, is there ever really a right time to make a dark comedy about rich people trying to murder poor folks? No, but the filmmakers don’t approve of The Hunt’s shelving and what he perceives as censorship in his industry. “I don’t know where we’re headed as a society, but it doesn’t feel like censoring art is ever going to be the right decision. Once we get to that, we are going down a dangerous path,” says Bettinelli-Olpin*. “If anything, we should use the art that we want to censor as something to have a real conversation about and try to understand why.”
*This article previously misidentified Tyler Gillett as Matt Bettinelli-Olpin.