Wedding Games

Dominic Corry talks to the trio behind the gnarly new survival horror Ready or Not about balancing the extreme with the grounded, how far to take on-screen gore when you’re trying to have fun, and the joy of old-fashioned board game aesthetics.

We get that the general thesis of the movie is wildly ridiculous, but the characters don’t think it’s ridiculous.” —⁠Tyler Gillett

Radio Silence is a filmmaking collective comprised of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who direct, and Chad Villella, who produces. They were behind 2014 horror breakout Devil’s Due and contributed segments to the indie horror anthologies V/H/S (2012) and Southbound (2016).

If they were flying a bit under the radar before, they most certainly won’t be after everyone sees their new film Ready or Not, a delightfully demented black comedy/horror anchored by a rip-snorting, sure-to-be-star-making performance from rising Aussie actor Samara Weaving (The Babysitter and the upcoming Bill & Ted Face the Music). She plays Grace, the new bride of Alex (Mark O’Brien), scion of the rich and eccentric Le Domas family, headed by Tony (Henry Czerny) and Becky (Andie MacDowell).

Following the couple’s wedding at the sprawling, secret passage-filled Le Domas mansion, Grace is asked to indulge a family tradition tied to the fact that their fortune derives from a board game company funded by a peculiar deal made by the first Le Domas to arrive in America.

The “game” ends up a much more sinister affair than Grace anticipated, and she is soon fighting for her life against the extended Le Domas brood, which includes an alcoholic brother played by a possibly never-better Adam Brody.

Ready or Not has a great premise, and the execution to match, with fans on Letterboxd enjoying the horror-humor mix. “Think You’re Next sautéed with a dash of Clue, topped with an early Sam Raimi-esque humorous gore red sauce,” writes Andy Levy. “An utterly preposterous concept that works in execution on the way to the most hilariously bonkers finale of the summer,” says Mark.

Letterboxd recently spoke to the Radio Silence trio about their new film.

How did you guys get involved in this film—did it come to you as screenplay?
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: We got sent the screenplay five or six years ago, by Tripp Vinson and James Vanderbilt, the producers. They went another direction, which is a kind way of saying they hired somebody else for like a year or so, then it came back around and we chased it really hard.

I just remember the first time we sat with Tripp and Jamie and Guy [Busick] and Ryan [Christopher Murphy], the writers, it felt like a group of people who should’ve been working together for a long time. We all had the same sensibilities, we were all aiming at the same target, we all wanted to make the same movie. And it’s one of the few scripts we’ve ever read and were like “Oh man, I wish we wrote this”. This was the voice that we wanna be speaking in. So it really just spoke to us and it was a great process. They were still doing drafts for us up until production.

From left: Tyler Gillett, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Chad Villella and DOP Brett Jutkiewicz.
From left: Tyler Gillett, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Chad Villella and DOP Brett Jutkiewicz.

Was there anything specific that you felt helped elevate it beyond other survival horrors?
Tyler Gillett: I think the thing that really grabbed us from the start that felt like it was so specific to the identity of Ready or Not, was this really crazy ensemble of characters and how well drawn each of them [is]. It’s so common in the genre space to just play everyone really arch and not give the characters a really specific point of view and to not ground the film and the crazy fantasy elements of it in real emotional drama and a real emotional point-of-view, and this script was just full of that for us. We loved that. The villains are so clearly the villains and our heroine is so clearly that character, but there is something fun and relatable and interesting about the interactions between all of them that isn’t just: “Oh hey, I have a gun or I have a bow and arrow and I’m gonna chase you and I’m gonna try to kill you”. There’s a lot more going on under the surface.

Obviously the superficial thrill of it is it’s a woman on the run, but at its heart, it’s a movie that’s about family and it’s about faith and it’s about trying to figure out who you are as an outsider entering this crazy realm. We could draw on that every single day on the shoot and it certainly helped us attach this great cast. There was so much about the depth of those characters that we just felt: wow, this is an undeniably great genre movie, but it’s also an undeniably great family drama, it’s an undeniably great satire.

That’s at the heart of it for us. Whether you’re spending time with the family or you’re on the run with Grace, it feels believable even though it’s heightened and insane. We get that the general thesis of the movie is wildly ridiculous, but the characters don’t think it’s ridiculous.

What do you think this film gains from having a female protagonist?
Chad Villella: I think the entire movie revolves around Grace. We were extremely fortunate to have Samara Weaving, somebody who can carry the weight of the film the entire way through. From our very first meeting with Samara, she brought this punk-rock vibe to the role. It was always something we talked about but weren’t quite sure how we were going to execute. And Samara just brought it with her performance, and by just bringing that rebellious nature after the family turns on her. She wasn’t gonna just sit around and be a victim, she was gonna fight back, and she was gonna fight the whole way through it. She said she didn’t wanna be screaming the entire way through this movie. She was gonna have moments where she could just dig in and let the family have it, and I think she did that in spades.

There’s an interesting use of violence in this film. Do you have a philosophy around how far to take that sort of thing?
MB-O: The short answer is we just follow our tastes, you know? The movie is in line with our personal tastes, and we enjoy a good kill and a good shock, but we don’t like revelling in the gore really, it’s never really been our thing. But we like the effect of it on both sides. One of the things that we think is most effective and we’ve always enjoyed, is focusing more on the reaction than the actual violence.

It’s always scarier or funnier to see people reacting to something, than it is to be watching the actual thing. That really helped us because we were able to then kind of stay within the guardrails we’d set up for ourselves, because from the script stage and pre-production, let alone production, we were always aware that if we go too far in one direction it’s going to derail everything around it. You can’t exactly laugh after you’ve seen something that makes you literally wanna throw up. So we had to find that [line], and to be honest we found some of that in the edit, too. We had a lot of stuff on both sides of that, the gore and the violence, and also on the humor, where we were like, “Okay, we have to make sure that it stays grounded, as ridiculous and over the top as it is”.

Ready or Not makes great use of the aesthetics of arcane magic and board games—was it fun to revel in that space?
TG: We all are huge fans of that stuff. Not only did we all grow up playing board games with our families, we loved that analogue gaming language that exists in this movie. It feels really old and it feels like it’s really steeped in tradition. That was really important to us, to make us feel like these games, the games that the family has created and built their empire on, that it’s a continuation of a deal with this benefactor that’s existed for many generations. So the choice to make all of those games analogue, it felt really tactile and it felt really interesting. We could put board games up in the house as part of the production design. Even the choosing box [from which Grace selects her fate, glimpsed in the header image for this article] itself has this very board-game quality to it.

When we were pitching on the movie, some of the very first images that we created from a directorial point of view were about the juxtaposition between these moments of terror, against this board-game backdrop. We actually created this Monopoly board that essentially represented all the members of the family in the property squares that we are all familiar with and the weapons and all of that. That was a really defining moment for us, just in terms of figuring out the tone; it all came from the thrill of a board game and then the very real stakes of what this night means for Grace and for her survival.

So the games were always this guiding light, and a reminder to keep things fun. As much as the movie is certainly about specific themes and as much as it’s certainly about the terror and nightmare that this woman goes through on what’s supposed to be the best day of her life, we just always wanted to make sure that it was an entertaining ride first and foremost. The gaming backdrop did us a lot of favors in achieving that.

Ready Or Not’ is in US cinemas now. Comments have been edited for clarity and length.


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