Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
It’s not often when a collective of creatives whose clever intentions are all completely in sync comes along to magnificently shake up and electrify genre filmmaking. Yet that’s what Radio Silence has been doing these past few years with films like SOUTHBOUND, V/H/S, and DEVIL’S DUE. Now, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, and producer Chad Villella have changed the game again with their bold, breezy, devilishly wicked horror-comedy READY OR NOT, about newlywed Grace (Samara Weaving) attempting to survive her in-law’s traditional (and deadly) honeymoon night game of Hide And Seek.
Was it a challenge to map out the logistics of the house in terms of its layout? Was it done on a soundstage where you could control it more easily?
Chad Villella: Nothing was done on a soundstage. We did find location practically. We did an extensive hunt in Toronto, Ontario of big houses. Unfortunately none of them worked for what we were going for aesthetically. We were going for that old money feel to it. We ended up doing a combination of three locations: Castle Loma (a castle in downtown Toronto), the Parkwood Estate (where they shot BILLY MADISON), and YWCA in Oshawa. We had an incredible production designer who was able to make them all look like the same location. We had a 40 foot piece of wall that we took with us so we could connect it via hallways.
Our DP Brett Jutkiewicz did a fantastic job lighting it and making the house come together – so much so, when we got to the edit, our editor Terel Gibson didn’t know which location was what. We were very happy with that process. Doing it practically, we’re proud of it.
How many wedding dresses did you have in various stages of decomposition? Was that easy to keep track of them?
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: It was not easy. Avery [Plewes], our costume designer, knocked it out of the park. I think there were 19 or 17 official dresses to figure out – just under 20. And then we had an additional set of dresses to make it 30 for Samara’s stunt double. Tracking, we had tentpoles laid out – here’s where she cuts it, and where she splits from Alex, and when she falls in the pit, and where she takes off the sleeve. We really tracked the deterioration throughout so that when we got to set, we were shooting the end scene first. We started with the end look first and then had to work backwards to get to it.
I’d imagine part of the fun was sorting out which characters would yield what weapons.
Tyler Gillett: It’s fair to say that the tone of this movie is pretty bizarre and singular. That tone only works if you make very specific choices that are always serving it. Certainly who is carrying what weapon was a huge part of that. To give Guy Busick and Ryan Christopher Murphy, our writers, credit, the script in its entirity was so character specific. It was so, so rich. All of those choices were so smart and servicing the tone throughout. We were thrilled with how they’re represented when they’re running around with them. It hits that sweet spot in terms of tone. We can’t get that image of Aunt Helene carrying an ax out of our head.
The cast is impeccable. Did it take some wrangling to gather them together?
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: In hindsight it feels easy because everybody clicked. At the time, we were nervous to say the least. We were down to the wire. There was something that each of them had something so unique that they brought to it. For a lot of them, they were the first or second [actors] we saw for the roles. As we brought them on, we started to see the family. It really came to life for us once we saw them on set interacting. They all own their characters. They were all so fearless and we really needed that because some of the characters had to be extreme in how much they believed in the mythology and the lengths they were willing to go through. To have each of the ensemble bring a specific point of view and relationship to each of the other characters is what allowed us to take the pop-horror and comedy to the furthest edges we could.
Was it tricky to balance all those tones?
Tyler Gillett: It’s a tight rope to walk, for sure. One of the things we’re so grateful for, that tone was represented in the earliest drafts of the script. It’s very easy over the course of the project for the producers, or the studio to get cold feet about something that feels a little outside of the box and start to direct it toward a single direction instead of allowing all of those tones to coexist. To the credit of the producers and Fox Searchlight, they read the script and they loved not only what the script was, but they loved the risk of it. That it was unique and had such a specific identity. They pushed us hard to preserve what was unique about it.
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: The characters really allowed us to ground all of that. It was through them that those tones are able to coexist.
Was the hide-and-seek song something that was pre-existing or did you guys have to self-generate it?
Chad Villella: It was amazing that there wasn’t one already out there that we could find. We had our friends from The Gifted create that for the movie. They were able to do it so it would feel like it was from the 1930’s/ 1940’s and have that Vincent Price feel of the game-master laughing at the end of the song. They helped us out on SOUTHBOUND too. They did our entire score on SOUTHBOUND. It was great to bring them in on this process and working with them on this one as well.
Nat Faxon is the voice of the OnStar-like “TripSafe” operator. How did he come aboard?
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: It’s named after our producer [Tripp Vinson]. For the longest time, in our edit, it was our A.D. Joanna Moore. When we needed to actually put a voice to it, Searchlight was working with Nat Faxon and thought he’d be great. Sight unseen, we sent him some lines from the movie and he sent back some tape on his iPhone and we worked with that for awhile. He came in and did some ADR – maybe half an hour. So Academy Award winner Nat Faxon hadn’t seen the movie – just that one clip – and he’s in it. He’s so specific. It was about someone who brought a natural lighthearted sensibility to it, but playing it really grounded and as real as possible. It wasn’t about going for the joke, but about this bizarre moment.
Are there things that you’ve all learned from your previous features that you applied here?
Tyler Gillett: One of the things we’ve learned on our previous features and projects is that you always want to have more time and you always feel like you need more budget. But at the end of the day, if you’re really down to do the work, those limitations actually can really be a place of creative discovery. For us, what we first read in the script and what we first started shooting was that you have to develop the project for the process you have access to. What we’ve learned always making stuff on our own with a lot of limitations is that you’re forced to make choices of what’s most valuable.
What we did with this, steering the story towards Grace’s character and preserving all the great character moments within the family, that’s what’s so fun and watchable about this movie. All the gags are all so great, but without those character beats, it’s all superficial. We’ve learned over the course of our working together that getting back to character as often as you can and you’ll never go wrong.
What was the toughest day and how did you negotiate through it?
Chad Villella: Day ten and that’s because we were shooting some very hard scenes at the end of a very long week. The very last thing we had to shoot was the interiors of the car accident where we had Samara and John Ralston in a car that was on a rotating device and it started snowing. We were in a pickle there since it doesn’t snow anywhere else in our movie. We got through it by shooting it another night [all laugh].
You do what you gotta do, right? If you could so any of this over again, is there something you would change?
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: That’s a great question…shit.
Tyler Gillett: I think if we were sitting here and the shoot had been brutal and the project that we made was something that was not something we were proud of, that would be an easy question to answer.
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: Maybe about our other movies [laughs].
Tyler Gillett: We were proud of the team that came together to make this, of the process we all went through making it and being proud of the outcome. It’s hard to imagine what we would do differently. I know there was a running joke with Henry Czerny flipping a coin that we wound up cutting. We’d love to have like five of those in the movie. But we’ll take that one small edit over anything else in the process.
READY OR NOT is out in theaters on August 21.