If you were to make a word cloud out of all the horror tropes which appear in the new movie Ready or Not, the following would have to be in there:
A group of evil Satanists. A scary, ornate puzzle box. A devil’s bargain. A dead-by-dawn hunt in a single location, in this case, a locked mansion which has secret chambers galore and seemingly endless rooms. A blue-collar bride (Samara Weaving) running for her life. And a coked-out killer (a hilarious Melanie Scrofano aka Wynonna Earp) who doesn’t know what the hell she is doing and keeps accidentally murdering innocent maids instead of the bride.
If you’re one kind of horror fan, everything I just said probably sounded perfect to you until I got to the part about the comical killer who can’t shoot straight unless she’s aiming at the wrong person. If you’re another kind, however, it’s that last part which makes everything else sound great.
I’m in that latter group. I’m the guy whose favorite Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th sequels are the so-called “funny ones.” I’m the type of fan who loves horror-comedies, from Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein to You Might Be the Killer. You can obviously belong in both camps, accept both the serious with a capital “S” horror (something like Hereditary or The Shining) and the brand which comes leavened with laughs and satire (something like Tucker & Dale vs. Evil or Re-Animator). However, based on my experiences at horror conventions and talking about the genre online there does some to be an especially militant faction of fandom which simply won’t support horror-comedy in the slightest.
Dark Comedy, Satire, Horror-Comedy – Call It Whatever You Want, This Movie Has Some Great Gags
Those people probably won’t like Ready or Not. On the one hand, it is a quick and dirty 1% vs. 99% night-from-hell story about a girl who marries into a rich family only to then be hunted by them on her wedding night as part of some devil ritual. Multiple people are shot in the face and one even has their faced smashed in. There is a wince-inducing closeup of a hand going through a rusty nail. By the final act, the heroine is literally covered in blood.
On the other hand, when one of the maids is accidentally murdered she’s dispassionately put out of her misery when the sound of her dying gets in the way of the group carrying on a conversation. The phrase “fucking rich people” is uttered with comical contempt. “That was dad’s thing. It was the 80s” is fired off to explain why they used to wear masks during the ritual but don’t anymore. The killers are mostly clueless since the family – led by Andie McDowell and Henry Czerny – hasn’t conducted the ritual in years if not longer. What the hell do they know about how to shoot an ancient crossbow? And half of them don’t even really want to be on the hunt, hilariously clashing with the older members who are just a little too into it.
To put it another way, Ready or Not wants to make you laugh while also scaring you. It’s not campy or more comedy than horror. Many sequences play it straight and will have you gripping the edge of your seat, such as when all the stands between the bride and a newly unlocked door is a towering servant with his back turned. (Heightening the tension: the bride’s groom, played by Mark O’Brien, watches all of this through a security camera and roots for his new wife to escape since he never wanted to take part in the ritual in the first place.) Mostly, though, Ready or Not aims to offer a quick 95-minutes of entertainment, both by going for the jugular and the darkly funny.
From Funny YouTube Videos to Horror
As a Radio Silence production, that should hardly register as a surprise. The film collective – Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Chad Villella, Tyler Gillett – known as Radio Silence made its name on funny YouTube videos 10 years ago. Their videos often merged the mundane with the specular, like an average day at the office which takes a turn for the weird and dangerous when Men in Black emerge and chase after a worker who somehow managed to turn a garbage can into a time machine. Speaking to The Ringer earlier this week, they admitted their inspiration always went back to the comedies they grew up on, meaning Ghostbusters and anything big and funny in the 80s.
But those movies almost never get made anymore, and YouTube’s demonetization efforts combined with its overall creative crackdown has effectively cut off the gravy train. Radio Silence got out before any of that happened, instead contributing short films to horror anthologies like 2012’s V/H/S before directing the horror feature Devil’s Due for Fox in 2014. Now they’re back with Ready or Not, a project surprisingly produced through the usually more prestige-oriented Fox Searchlight. In fact, Ready or Not just received the widest release in Searchlight history, and coming from a label known for nurturing auteurs Ready or Not is at least allowed to stay completely on-brand for Radio Silence.
The Hip New Thing
Their evolution from comedy to horror – or horror-comedy – is part of a larger movement of directors gravitating toward the one lower budget genre which still makes money in Hollywood. Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us), Danny McBride (Halloween 2018), and Chris Rock (who is directing a Saw reboot) are three other comedians turned horror filmmakers. Regardless of the economic incentive for such a transition, Vulture recently argued horror and comedy are far closer than most people realize and call upon similar talents:
However, Danny McBride’s Halloween isn’t funny, at least not intentionally – take that, third act “crazy doctor” twist! Peele’s Get Out and Us mix comedy with their horror but both lean more toward the latter than the former. Who knows what Rock will do with Saw.
I’m cool with all of that, but whereas most people go to horror to be scared I prefer a good jump and plenty of laughs. Maybe its because as I grow older and my movies-watched-list increases I’ve seen too much to ever be scared by traditional horror films anymore. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been the type of person who tries to alleviate tension with jokes and naturally respond to that same trick in movies. Or maybe it’s because, like the Radio Silence guys, I’m a kid of the 80s and 90s grew up with genres intermingling and merging and love when that happens.
Ready or Not Aims to Entertain
Either way, as Stephen King said, horror and comedy each work best when they elicit a vocal reaction from the audience. That’s why they often go so great together, and Ready Or Not made me gasp in horror – seriously, that hand on that damn nail! – and laughter. I was never truly scared, but I had a great time with it. Samara Weaving starts out like a B-Movie Margot Robbie and ends like a badass Furiosa, the supporting cast (almost all of them Canadian TV vets, except for Adam Brody) perfectly toys the film’s satirical line, and the social commentary about the absurdities of the rich is there just enough to be appreciated or ignored. To be honest, all of the funny parts are in the trailer, but that’s ok – the trailer’s pretty great.
RANDOM PARTING THOUGHT
Color me mildly surprised that Ready or Not – a movie about rich people hunting a poor girl who grew up in foster care – never got sucked into The Hunt controversy. However, that might be because its rich vs. poor commentary is more generalized and timeless and thus far less specific about this current political moment. It might also just be because Ready or Not has been flying on the PR radar for some time now.
What about you? How do you feel about horror comedies? Not your jam? Or maybe just not always your jam, like in those instances where the comedy supersedes the horror? Let me know in the comments.