Shall we play a game? How about hide-and-seek? I’ll hide the movie Ready or Not in a number of theaters around the world, and you go and find it. Yeah, it’s not a difficult game, but you should really seek out this new black horror comedy conceived by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy (no, not that one) and directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett of the Radio Silence filmmaking collective. The plot involves a woman (Samara Weaving) who marries into a wealthy family who will do anything to keep their fortune — even if it means murdering the new addition as part of a superstitious, ritualistic game of deadly hide-and-seek to appease the ghost of their original benefactor (Satan?).
There are a lot of obvious precursors to a story like this, and I’m definitely recommending some of those to watch next. I’ve also got some additional picks of my own, because that’s how this particular ritual curation and column of mine works. Each title is followed by a link to where to watch it most easily (at the time of publication). Feel free to share your own suggested viewing to me (@thefilmcynic), or just let me know your favorite adaptation of or homage to The Most Dangerous Game. Because I don’t have enough space to recommend them all here, or even the original — instead I went for the one most relevant to the protagonist of Ready or Not.
↓Spoilers for Ready or Not↓
The Disappearance of Susan Cox Powell (2019)
Think about the scenario of Ready or Not in real terms. It’s a true-crime story of a wealthy family murdering new brides and grooms joining their ranks. There’s a convenience to Grace (Weaving) having no family or friends of her known, because usually if a newlywed wife disappeared or turned up dead, she’d have people concerned about what happened to her. Had the Le Domas clan achieved their ritual, they’d certainly be wanted for questioning. Alex (Mark O’Brien) definitely would have been a person of interest, maybe even the number one suspect. There’d be an investigation into the Le Domases’ history. Other missing persons would be discovered to have been tied to them. True-crime documentaries would have been made.
For this week’s documentary pick, therefore, I’ve chosen a work of the true-crime genre. I almost went with The Jinx (2015), the famous HBO limited series about Robert Durst, who was part of a very wealthy family and who, it’s pretty much known now, killed his wife. The Disappearance of Susan Cox Powell is not nearly as good. The two-part NBC documentary series involves a structure with on-screen investigators that I’m not that into. But the story of Susan Powell’s disappearance is a little more fitting, mainly because it includes the whole family that she married into. They weren’t rich, though, and Powell and her husband, Josh, had to live with his family. Her father-in-law was obsessed over her and voyeuristically spied on her. The husband, a suspect in the murder, sadly killed himself and their sons after being denied custody of the kids. His brother was also suspected of assisting Josh in the murder, but he also committed suicide.
Two more recommended documentaries are Lauren Greenfield‘s The Queen of Versailles (2012) and Generation Wealth (2018). The former follows the Siegel family as they attempt to build the largest home in America. Then the financial crisis hits, and they wind up with financial problems. They’re the sort of rich, entitled clan that Ready or Not means to satire, and while they don’t blow up at the end, their plans do implode, and viewers may experience genuine schadenfreude. The latter film is a broader yet also more personal film from Greenfield that looks at subjects she’s photographed in the past for an indictment of greed and excess and the current cultural obsession with affluence.
Stream The Disappearance of Susan Cox Powell on the Oxygen website.
Horror fans may expect to find other movies of the genre about childish games that turn deadly on this list. But most of those are not very good. And also, well, I’m not that big into horror myself. My appreciation of Ready or Not instead comes with the dark humor and the cartoonishness of the gore. I’d be more inclined to recommend something like Shaun of the Dead (2004), which similarly concerns a romantic pairing and the family and friends that are in the way of their happily ever after and their one-by-one deaths by supernatural horror means that lead to the couple’s happy ending. Or, I’m inclined to skip the horror altogether and focus on the game aspect and recommend the recent, under-seen comedy Tag.
Like the hide-and-seek in Ready or Not, tag is a very ridiculous game for grown-ups to play. The funny thing is that Tag is based on a true story. If adults are playing games of tag, then maybe there are wealthy families out there also playing the similar game in which the person who is “it” needs to locate the other players rather than just tag them. The cast of Tag is comprised of a number of comedic talents, including Jon Hamm, Ed Helms, Isla Fisher, Hannibal Burress, and Jake Johnson. But the MVP of the movie is Jeremy Renner, who should be doing more comedies. He’s hilarious as the friend who has never been tagged, and he performs a certain cover song during the end credits that earns him major props.
Stream Tag on HBO Now (or HBO/HBO Go).
Get Out (2017)
In Ready or Not, a woman is welcomed to the family of her significant other, and at first, all is just fine. There’s no plan to kill her, and the hope seems to be that nothing of that sort will be necessary. But a chance drawing of a card (or is it really chance?) turns the situation. And up until the end, the significant other seems to be on her side rather than that of his killer clan. This isn’t just a game or a plain old human hunt, there’s a Satanic ritual involved. The elders are concerned with both tradition and maintaining the wealthy legacy of their family by whatever means is necessary. The directors’ implicit political message with the movie, “that privilege and entitlement are really dangerous things,” is aimed at the conservative rich.
Compare it to Jordan Peele‘s Oscar-winning debut, Get Out. Here a man is welcomed to the family of his significant other, and at first, all is just fine. They seem like a friendly bunch, even if they go overboard in affirming themselves to be the absolute opposite of racist. But it turns out that they like African Americans so much to a point of nefarious intentions. There’s no sport involved, just mad science. And it’s not so much a ritual as a procedure that requires the family to lure in the romantic partners. Nor is it about tradition so much as moving forward. Elders are concerned with maintaining life rather than legacy, through a process of transmigration. Peele takes aim politically, too, but his target is post-racial white liberalism.
Stream Get Out on FX Now.
I can’t find any proof in the form of an interview, but apparently, it’s common knowledge that Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett were inspired by Heathers when making Ready or Not. The final shot of their movie, in particular, with Weaving lighting a cigarette on the steps in the foreground as the Le Domas home goes up in flames behind her, is pretty obviously an homage to the end of Heathers, which has Winona Ryder lighting a cigarette on the steps in the foreground as her high school is behind her and smoke from an explosion wafts around her. The only thing missing is Martha Dunnstock (no, I’m not going with the cruel nickname) to join the heroine and head off into the sunset — well, for Ready or Not it’d be the sunrise.
Just as in Ready or Not, the heroine of Heathers, Ryder’s Veronica Sawyer, is drawn by her significant other into a deadly game she’s reluctant to play. But Veronica’s situation isn’t about her survival. Okay, it’s about social survival, but that’s not really life or death, even if it seems to be for teenagers. The elite that Veronica and boyfriend J.D. take on is of the high school caste system. But it’s easy to forget that Veronica only kills one person herself. Same with Grace in Ready or Not, and I love that about the new movie, that the heroine isn’t suddenly vengefully murderous. She doesn’t want to be a killer and mostly just disables her hunters in order to getaway. Until finally she does take self-defense to the extreme with the matriarch of the Le Domas family. Also recommended is Mean Girls (2004), a Heathers-inspired but lighter high school comedy in which Lindsay Lohan also dresses as a Grace-like scary bride on Halloween.
Stream Heathers on Amazon Prime Video or on Hulu.
Fair Game (1986)
Before watching Ready or Not, the synopsis of a bride trying to survive a deadly game made me think of Kill Bill (both volumes, 2003 and 2004), in which Uma Thurman’s heroine is known as “The Bride.” Tarantino may have been inspired by the Hong Kong action movie Queens High (1990), in which Cynthia Khan plays an armed bride who takes revenge after her groom and family is gunned down during her wedding (look at the poster of Khan in wedding dress holding a machine gun to get excited). Thanks to the documentary Not Quite Hollywood, though, we do know Tarantino is a fan of Fair Game. It’s not about a bride, but it is about a woman who is hunted and not only survives but turns on the offensive against her predators.
Yes, this is the specifically relevant take on The Most Dangerous Game that I promised. It follows a woman at a wildlife sanctuary targeted by poachers who decide she’s their next prey, but then they become hers. Is it the best adaptation of the premise? No. Does it have questionable exploitation film content? Of course. Linda Hamilton (and sometimes Farrah Fawcett) lookalike Cassandra Delaney has to show a lot of skin and take a lot of abuse? Yes. It’s an ’80s B movie. It’s not always likable. Director Mario Andreacchino doesn’t want people to take it too seriously, either. But this cult Ozploitation flick has got some cool low-budget action and eventually some sick revenge on some awful men.
Buy Fair Game on Blu-ray from Amazon.
Secret passageways can be found in tons of horror and mystery movies going back to the beginning of cinema (and have been seen as recent as in such movies as The Little Stranger and Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase), and they’re a part of real history going back millennia, but when I saw the tunnels of the Le Domas estate in Ready or Not, my brain immediately went to Clue, of course. Mostly because of my age and my favor for the ensemble mystery comedy. Also because those behind-the-wall spaces in the movie are part of the adaptation of the board game Clue, which allows players to move across the board via secret passageways.
Clue is also an interesting movie to look at as complementary to Ready or Not because of its link to a game. While the new movie involves a childhood playground game that the characters are familiar with and aware they’re playing, Clue is based on a game and never goes meta in its recognition of such within the narrative. The characters are avatars from the board game and as such are kind of diegetically part of a diabolical game in-story, but they aren’t aware of it and they’re certainly not aware that the game they’re a part of is a version of the game Clue. And if you like Clue, next go watch fellow Hill House-set movies House on Haunted Hill (1959) and The Haunting (1963) plus the mystery film spoof Murder by Death (1976).
Stream Clue on Amazon Prime Video.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
When Disney bought Fox, they acquired Ready or Not through Fox Searchlight Pictures. That has led to plenty of jokes about Grace being a Disney Princess, and while there’s no legitimacy to such a specific title, she does have a lot in common with classic fairytale characters, the sort that become Disney Princesses or other staples of the Walt Disney Animation brand. She marries into a blueblood family that isn’t royalty but has a similar distinction as members of the modern elite. Their family is a kind of dynasty, for sure. And they want the beautiful new addition to their family dead. Fortunately, she ultimately defeats the wicked in-laws and lives fucked up ever after.
There are genuine Disney Princesses who deal with evil family members, each of them new relations without a blood connection. We can go all the way back to the first Disney animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for the best example. As adapted from the Grimm Brothers story, it is the even Queen who has married into a family. She feels threatened by the beauty of her step-daughter, Snow White, and so sends a man to hunt her. Fortunately, she ultimately defeats the wicked witch/queen/step-parents and lives happily ever after. Okay, so it’s not really her that defeats the villain so much as a combination of the seven dwarfs, woodland creatures, and a strike of lightning. Fairytales are better now.
Buy Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on Digital from Amazon.
The Mistletoe Bough (1904)
Finally, here is the most important recommendation of the week. Way back, 115 years ago, The Mistletoe Bough presented the story of a deadly game of hide-and-seek on a wedding night. In this version, the bride is the one who suggests the activity, and it’s her own fault that her fate is sealed before she can even consummate her vows. She hides so well that nobody finds her until 30 years later when her ghost is spotted coming out of a similar chest. The way the wedding party just gives up trying to find her after a short while is pretty amusing. Did they think she just ran off after saying “I do”? Maybe the film we see is the cover-up story. Maybe the family killed her and made up the idea that they just couldn’t locate her.
The Christmas-set tale of the Mistletoe Bough is actually based on a legend believed by some to have been a true story. There are even estates in England that claim to be the real location where the bride went missing and now haunts (British Pathe made a 1941 documentary short showing the village of Minster Lovell as the setting). The legend, the telling of which was a holiday tradition in Britain, became famous first in the 19th century as a poem and then a song and then a play and here a film. Two other silent short versions were made in 1923 and 1926. Most movie fans should be familiar with the story as it’s told by John Dall’s character in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope.
The original film version was recently restored by the British Film Institute, and if you are in the UK you can watch the nine-minute version, in which the wedding party spends more time searching for the bride and even comes upon the locked chest where she’s hiding, on the BFI Player. Otherwise, watch the shorter cut below.