Most weekends, I watch a horror movie with my friend and her two oldest kids. We’ve been introducing them to older classics like “The Exorcist,” “Friday the 13th”, and “Halloween.” Still, occasionally, we’ll dip into the newer horror and thriller must-sees, and that’s what happened last time when we chose to watch “Ready Or Not.” From the trailer, I thought it would be a slasher with plenty of jumpscares and twists. While it is a slasher, “Ready Or Not” is an incredibly moving film about what it’s like to grow up in what you think is a “normal” family, only to discover when you’re older that your family is anything but typical. As someone who has experienced this in my life, I was instantly mesmerized by the story and the truths underneath what could have been just a fluffy, mindless horror film.
Growing up, I was in an ultra-conservative family with a mother who wanted to pretend she lived in the 1800s. We were homeschooled, taught incredibly formal manners, wore handmade clothing, never cut our hair, and were never allowed to have anything, see anything, read anything, or hear anything remotely trendy or popular. This in no way prepared me for the real world, and I have often been asked why my speech is so formal and old-fashioned or if I get the pop culture reference someone made. I’ve had to catch up in the past ten years or so, and it’s difficult to explain to people what it’s like growing up in such a household, completely disconnected from modern reality and society. There were things that were normal in my family but not normal in others. Some of that has to do with the religion we were part of, and some of it had to do with my mother’s undiagnosed mental illness and both my parents’ childhood trauma.
In “Ready Or Not,” a woman marries into a rich family. She is thrilled to belong to a family, having grown up in the foster care system. After the wedding, she starts hearing about the family’s tradition of playing a game on the wedding night. She is incredulous, determined to win, and horrified when she realizes what the game entails.
While the film focuses on Grace’s journey, it does spend time fleshing out the rest of her new family, especially the two brothers, Daniel and Alex. Alex is “the good one,” destined to become the family’s leader. He married Grace despite knowing what could happen to her on their wedding night. Daniel, on the other hand, is seen as the “lost cause” sibling. He doesn’t take the family’s traditions seriously. He’s weak, more prone to pour himself a glass of liquor rather than take anything seriously. Throughout the film, the brothers are measured up against each other, sometimes with surprising results.
However, the most chilling part of the entire film is a conversation between Alex and his mother. It’s near the end of the story, and Alex is explaining why he’d initially left the family.
[Mom]: “Why did you leave us, Alex?”
[Alex]: “Oh, I don’t know, Mom. I don’t know. Maybe one night, when I was chanting and slicing the throat of a goat, it occurred to me that wasn’t a completely normal thing to do. But this scared me the most…it felt normal. It did. And I realized you’ll do pretty much anything if your family says it’s okay.”
From experience, I can say this is entirely true. My family felt “normal” while I was growing up, and it was only when I grew up and was able to get away that I realized just how abnormal our family was and how much trauma and abuse we’d survived. I wish I’d had a “normal” life sometimes, with a family that was still connected in a healthy way. But some of us don’t get that. Some of us, instead, get thrown to the wolves and either escape or never make it out. “Ready Or Not” shows what happens when a family allows its traditions and rituals to turn them into twisted, horrific versions of themselves. Those of us who are able to escape must face a difficult uphill climb to health, happiness, and hope, but it helps to remember that we are not “evil” or “abominations” – we are survivors. The Last Girls of our families. We get to decide which family traditions to continue and which to toss into the flames.
If you’d like to watch “Ready or Not,” you can find it online at Prime Video, VUDU, or Apple TV.