How 'Ready or Not' Pulled Off the Bloodiest and Funniest Ending of the Year
This post contains spoilers for the end of Ready or Not.
As it stands, the conclusion to Fox Searchlight's horror-comedy Ready or Not is, without a doubt, one of the bloodiest, funniest, and wildest you'll see this year, filled with the literal viscera of the ultra-wealthy. But when the movie's script first came to the directing team known as Radio Silence, there was a key difference: In that initial draft, the final girl died.
Ready or Not charts the worst wedding night ever. Grace (Samara Weaving) marries Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien), the scion of a very rich, very strange family of board game entrepreneurs. Every time someone joins the brood, the Le Domas clan performs a ritual wherein the betrothed selects a card from a magic box. On it is a game the new spouse has to play. Most of the time, the card suggests chess or something equally innocuous. However, if the bride or groom's card reads "Hide or Seek," the festivities instantly get a lot more deadly. Naturally, that's the card Grace draws, the second time in a generation that this has happened, but what she doesn't realize when she nestles into a dumbwaiter is that her in-laws are pulling old time-y pistols and crossbows off the Le Domas' walls to arm themselves with so they can sacrifice her in a Satanic ritual before the sun rises -- a stay of the curse put upon the family via this mysterious card box -- and maintain their extraordinary wealth.
In the finished version of the film, which hit theaters last week, the Le Domas crew cannot catch Grace before sunrise and face their grisly punishment: Their heads explode, one by one, spraying their fancy dining room with red splatter. It's shocking and hilarious. But initially, Grace was supposed to bite the dust, the cycle grimly continuing, given that the police have an understanding with the Le Domas family which allows their human offerings to go on without interference. "That was the pre-Trump warning version of the movie," co-director Matt Bettinelli-Olpin says. "Like, 'look, this is what's going to happen.' And then Trump got elected and everything went to more shit. It was like, let's have the cathartic version." You know, the one with the rich people's heads exploding.
It was one of several options considered for the end writers Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy (not that one) provided, which included among them a meteor strike. The head popping one was the obvious choice, but it took some convincing. "There was friction, though, because I remember specifically, people were like, 'Are we jumping the shark with the explosions?'" Bettinelli-Olpin's fellow director Tyler Gillett explains. "We had to do a lot of pitching on, 'No, no, no, it's going to feel real. These motherfuckers are actually exploding in this house.'"
The sequence came to life with a mix of VFX work and practical effects, involving a concoction of "caramel sauce, banana, and a little bit of cloth" that was then "rigged to a detonator," according to Chad Villella, the third member of Radio Silence, who acts as an executive producer. The blood bags were then set up on a T-stand or in mini cannons, the latter of which were used to combust two Le Domas children and their mother. (The kids getting the Devil's wrath almost invariably elicits giggles from the audience: "My wife laughed the hardest at the kids," O'Brien says.)
"The actors are all in the green room waiting. They're like, 'Okay, Kristian [Bruun, who plays a useless brother-in-law]. Go in for your explosion.' And then, you come back, and everyone else is covered in blood, but that person's done," O'Brien explains. "It's so weird, and then of course, Samara and I get the most. The funny thing is, when the explosion happens, everyone around you is kind of laughing. So, it's so hard to be there and just be taking it. It was really hard to keep a straight face. And when Samara did the last one, I thought I was going to die. It was so funny watching her."
The actors playing bystanders would also get pelted with a blood gun engineered by the effects team, which looked like a mini softball launcher. According to Radio Silence, one of their producers, Tripp Vinson, was wary about aiming it at the faces of his stars. "It was scary," O'Brien admits.
The Grand Guignol finale -- which also includes a brief appearance from the actual Dark Lord himself -- only works because Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett lay the groundwork throughout the film, making these crazy traditions rooted in a perverse logic and fleshing out the Le Domas' world. Their sprawling estate, perfect for a cat-and-mouse game, was shot across three different locations in Toronto, including the mansion used for Billy Madison. Production designer Andrew Stearn found a carnival aesthetic that drew from Old Egyptian games while also feeling modern.
But the Le Domas are pointedly not expert killers -- one even googles "how to use a crossbow" on his phone while hiding in a bathroom -- and their naiveté makes this absurd game all more plausible. This is especially true of O'Brien's Alex, both doesn't warn Grace about his family's longstanding tradition before their wedding. "I've had people say to me, they're like, 'I can't believe he didn't tell her,'" O'Brien says. "I'm like, 'Yeah, but I don't think he would've. He thinks it's just going to graze over, and they're just going to play a game, and it's going to be fine…' Which I think grounds the movie, and makes it real to the idea that because I think it's crazy, too." It makes Alex the "epitome of privilege," Gillett notes.
Ready or Not's politics -- that the rich are selfish, homicidal maniacs able to normalize their actions without a second thought -- has drawn comparisons to The Hunt, Universal's canceled release that also features elites hunting the less fortunate for sport. But the members of Radio Silence are conscious that they are just one in a long line of films where the one percent are evil incarnate. "We're shining a light on something that I think most people are aware of," Bettinelli-Olpin says. "You know what I mean? If this sparks a conversation, that's cool. But for us, it was always like, 'Let's go have fun with this.' We have very strong political beliefs about it, and we all know exactly where we stand on it, but it's weird that we've been lumped in with The Hunt thing a lot, and in ours, I mean honestly, the rich are hunting themselves." A when their luck runs out, they pay the ultimate price: their mansion burns, their wealth gone, and their heads exploded.