It’s hard enough for a movie that isn’t tied to preexisting IP just to succeed at the box office these days; now, original films run the risk of getting canceled before they’re even released. Earlier this month, that fate befell The Hunt—a film that was due out in September about rich people hunting a bunch of working-class Americans for sport—following mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, along with a tweetstorm from our president decrying “liberal Hollywood” releasing movies that are “actually very dangerous for our country.” While POTUS didn’t single out The Hunt by name, the movie was subsequently pulled from Universal’s calendar, and it’s unclear if or when it will come out.
The Hunt was an easy scapegoat, but the film’s cancellation has also led to impassioned but ill-informed declarations that humans hunting/killing other humans is not an appropriate form of entertainment, which would completely disregard cinema as far back as 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game to that little franchise from the 2010s you might have heard of called The Hunger Games (to say nothing of Battle Royale or the ongoing Purge series).
This isn’t the place to [Charles Barkley voice] start a dialogue, but just to be clear: Disparaging a movie that hasn’t even been released for some ill-timed optics willfully ignores the actual issues at hand, and is as disingenuous as Walmart’s decision to ban violent-leaning video game displays while still selling firearms within its stores. (You’d also expect a lot less presidential pushback if more right-wingers knew, as Variety reported, that the initial script for The Hunt was about everyday conservatives fighting against “liberal elites” with a taste for killing people—but, again, all this confusion is what happens when a movie’s release is canceled before anyone gets a chance to see it and formulate an actual opinion.) Were a film about humans hunting humans released at a different time, it certainly wouldn’t stoke as much public controversy—in fact, we can say that definitively because, well, there’s one out in theaters right now.
That would be Ready or Not, a baroque horror-comedy from Fox Searchlight about the absolute worst-case version of meeting your new in-laws. The film begins on the wedding day of Alex (Mark O’Brien) and Grace (Samara Weaving), who’s marrying into the Le Domas family at their extravagant mansion. Alex’s family made an empire founded on selling board games, but he had been estranged from them for years until the wedding and generally regards them with contempt. Whenever a family member is wed, however, a Le Domas tradition dictates that the whole family gathers at midnight, and the newcomer picks a card out of a mysterious box to randomly select a game they must all play. (This is obviously weird, but at least stays on-brand by keeping with the family business.) Much to Alex’s dismay, Grace selects a card inscribed with the words “Hide and Seek,” which actually means she’ll be hunted down by the Le Domases and ritualistically murdered before sunrise.
The absurdity of the premise aside, the reason for this arcane tradition is that a Le Domas ancestor started the family’s empire by essentially making a deal with the devil. The family fears they will be cursed if they don’t adhere to this bonkers ritual—and most of the time, newlyweds get away scot-free by playing something harmless like checkers or old maid. But twisted game night has to happen, and sometimes it goes badly; as Alex explains to Grace in a key piece of exposition amid the hide-and-seek chaos, all family members who didn’t have their wedding at the Le Domas mansion and participate have died under mysterious circumstances, which is why he brought himself back into the fold.
Whether the Le Domas family curse is real or these fools have spent way too much time on the internet reading about the Kennedys is left open to interpretation until the movie’s ambitiously bonkers climax. But the mechanics of a family curse isn’t the intended takeaway of the film. At its gory center, Ready or Not is a lurid presentation of the type of awful shit 1 percenters are willing to do if it means retaining their wealth and power. In a tragicomic display of the family’s casual indifference, Alex’s sister inadvertently murders one of their housemaids—mistaking her for Grace. “She was my favorite,” a couple family members lament, the same way someone might mourn misplacing their favorite pair of shoes.
At one point Grace says what we’re all thinking: “Fucking rich people.” Ready or Not isn’t subtle and it’s not meant to be. Most of the Le Domas clan are intentionally caricatured in a way that’s oddly reminiscent of the Roys in Succession—one is constantly ingesting drugs like peak “techno Gatsby” Kendall; another is aware that the family is full of abhorrent people but doesn’t do anything to curb their impulses in a way that’s very Romanesque.
But anyway, a trenchant critique of the ultrawealthy, of course, is not why you watch a movie about hide-and-seek on steroids. Ready or Not arrives in the summer to deliver the basic, visceral thrill of humans hunting humans. With its labyrinth of hidden passageways and ornate hallways, the Le Domas residence—as well as the variety of medieval weapons they’re using to hunt, per “tradition”—is as much of a character as the thinly developed family itself. And considering what happens to the aforementioned housemaid—a moment relayed in the movie’s trailer, so don’t @ me—it’s not much of a spoiler to say Ready or Not racks up a bit of a body count with the Le Domas clan hunting Grace via increasingly elaborate set pieces.
As the R rating would indicate, Ready or Not isn’t the least bit afraid to get bloody; however, the violence is played for macabre laughs as often as genuine suspense. And because the film is more in the vein of Clue than something like Battle Royale—with promotional material that embraces the inherent silliness of the premise, which, it can’t be overstated, is a deadly round of fucking hide-and-seek—Ready or Not doesn’t have the same aesthetics that plagued The Hunt. Regardless, given that POTUS’s protestations about The Hunt appear to come down, in part, to that film’s establishment of a (violent and fictitiously over-the-top) divide between the working class and the 1 percent, the fact that Ready or Not arrives this week gamely depicting that exact same conflict—Grace is a product of the foster system with no wealth to her name—is not the least bit ironic. And whether intentional or not, it’s also low-key hilarious that pale Alex bears more than a little resemblance to presidential son-in-law/failson Jared Kushner. You can totally imagine him as a kid saying something like “Mother, this displeases me” with utter sincerity.
The Hunt died so that Ready or Not could live. That one of these movies about the rich hunting the poor might not see the light of day shouldn’t be indicative of either film’s quality, especially not when The Hunt hasn’t even been viewed by critics. Nor will The Hunt’s cancellation prevent projects conveying similar themes—be it economic divides or the basic conceit of human-on-human hunting—from popping up in the future. After all, a Hunger Games prequel is reportedly in the works, and HBO has already given the green light for Succession to dunk on rich people with another season. Ready or Not is a lot of fun, but what it’s selling should also feel familiar—the biggest difference is that sometimes, when the film skewers the 1 percent, it also does so literally.