The ending of 2019’s Ready or Not, directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, is iconic. Grace (Samara Weaving) sits on the steps of her now-deceased husband’s family home as she smokes a cigarette. Her once-white wedding dress, elegant layers of silk and lace, is ripped and stained red with the blood of the family she just married into. Chunks from their exploded bodies cling to her hair as their ancestral home burns behind her.
While that might sound like a harsh way for an entire family to go, you don’t feel too bad for them seeing as they just spent the night trying to hunt—and ritualistically sacrifice—Grace to uphold their end of a familial bargain with Satan that guarantees wealth and success for the Le Domas dynasty. A first responder asks her what happened, to which she simply replies, “in-laws.”
And while that might seem like a major over-simplification of events, it’s a pretty spot-on explanation and the reason we’re putting Grace on our list of the greatest feminist icons in horror (even though the movie is relatively new). On the surface, Ready or Not is a fresh take on the final girl trope, but a deeper dive into the film shows us a narrative about the feminist rejection of assimilation into the family unit (something that often comes with marriage).
The Pressures Of A New Family
For most people getting married, there’s pressure to be accepted and liked by their partner’s family. Although this stress can affect anyone looking to tie the knot, there’s evidence that this pressure is felt more substantially by women. This is exceptionally relevant to the world of Ready or Not, seeing as the story focuses on Grace’s attempt to conform to the Le Domas family unity. The movie begins with her looking out of a window and down at the family she’s about to marry into, worrying about whether they like her. Although her husband, Alex (Mark O’Brien), tries to reassure her that they do, we quickly see that they view her as an outsider and a threat. Alex’s brother, Daniel (Adam Brody), tells Grace during a pre-wedding photoshoot,
“Don’t take it personally. They’re just trying to figure out if you’re a gold-digging whore. You know, like my wife.”
This is quickly followed up by his spouse, Charity (Elyse Levesque), telling him privately that “she’ll never be one of us” about Grace. Even though she was an outsider herself, having married into the Le Domas family several years earlier, she’s now fully assimilated into the unit. She’s determined to protect them at all costs, even going so far as to shoot (and kill) her husband towards the end of the film when he tries to help Grace escape from the family’s clutches. Charity isn’t the only Le Domas emblematic of this hive-mind seen throughout the movie. Fitch (Kristian Bruun) has also married into the family and is willing to do the unthinkable for them, even though the other members of the unit repeatedly tell him they hate him. Although he’s vehemently disliked, now that he’s part of their clan, ensuring their survival becomes his top priority. He’s a Le Domas first and a man being berated by his in-laws second.
Resisting Familial Pressures
Grace’s character, on the other hand, is an interesting example of how marriage and assimilation into the family unit are normalized. We find out early in the movie that she was a foster child, and has been actively looking for a family since. We also learn through Alex that had he refused to get married, or refused to introduce her to his family, that she would have left him. Her being raised without a family has made her eager to belong to one, but unlike Charity and Fitch, she’s unwilling to sacrifice herself or her identity to assimilate to it.
We first see this when she changes out of her expensive heels and into a pair of yellow Converse and subsequently rips off the hem of her wedding dress. Even though this family is hunting her down, none of them refuse to change out of their expensive clothes or uncomfortable shoes. The family is obsessed with keeping their wealth and status, and it’s reflected in how they present themselves through the movie. They’re often focused on their appearances—Charity even applies lipstick in a mirror while Grace is being stalked—and Grace’s rejection of this is emblematic of her rejecting their values. They’re worried about how the unit appears collectively, Grace is worried about her survival.
We also see Grace trying to assimilate into the family unit—and then outright rejecting it—through her relationship with Alex’s mother, Becky (Andie MacDowell). At first, she seems anxious to win Becky’s approval, agreeing to bring Alex “back into the fold” without fully understanding what her mother-in-law means. Here, she’s being used to further the Le Domas’ interests and collective goals. However, once the family begins hunting Grace, Becky sees her as a threat to both her son and the family as a whole. She even tries to kill Grace with her bare hands at the film’s climax, only for Grace to bash her head in with a wooden box. It’s an especially interesting scene given the stereotypically tense relationship experienced by many wives and mothers-in-law.
Even Alex falls victim to his family’s assimilation when, in the eleventh hour, he also tries to kill his wife for the good of his relatives. He starts the movie by telling his family that he’s leaving with Grace the morning after their wedding, but ends it by putting his family’s needs before his own. Although he seems to love Grace, he’s overwhelmed by the need to conform to the Le Domas family demands.
The Wedding Dress As A Weapon
It should also be pointed out that Grace is dismantling patriarchy within the family unit by rejecting the traditions of the Le Domas forefathers, and even fighting against them with her hyperfeminine wedding dress. As explained in “How ‘Ready or Not’ Turned a Wedding Dress Into a Powerful Tool for Feminism and Murder” by Matt Donnelly, he tells us that “The sash is used to choke out one of her predators. A lace sleeve bandages a nasty flesh wound.”
Although Ready or Not might seem like a simple story about a newlywed fighting for her life against a killer family, the movie is so much more than that. It’s about a woman’s rejection of toxic assimilation into a family unit through marriage and the destruction of traditions rooted in patriarchy. (And, okay, it’s an absolute blood-bath that’s fun to watch.)
Be sure to check back for the next installment in our Greatest Feminist Icons in Horror series, coming to Tilt throughout October. For our up-to-date list, click here.