Written by Malin Evita
There are mild spoilers ahead for ‘Ready or Not’ – a movie available to purchase on Amazon Prime Video and AppleTV.
*This transcript has been edited and condensed. Listen to “#46 | Storytelling Through Clothing” available on all major podcast platforms for the full interview.
Ready or Not (2019, dir. Bettinelli-Olpin & Gillett) is a dark-comedy about Grace (played to perfection by Samara Weaving,) a newlywed bride. After the wedding ceremony, her wealthy in-laws invite her to a family initiation game. But this isn’t like any ordinary game of hide and seek, and before she knows it, Grace is running for her life.
Before this movie became an underground horror hit, the chatter in the streets wasn’t o-so positive. It was a story about an immensely wealthy family, but it was a low-budget film. And it was also being directed by the Radio Silence trio (well, officially two directors were credited, with Chad Villella on as producer,) which people were put off by (“Pure chaos!”). Plus, according to costume designer Avery Plewes, the script was very much so where you couldn’t tell if it would be way too camp or completely amazing when shot into reality. When she was up for the costume designing role, everyone around her cautioned her against taking it. “I have, since I was little, never listened to what people say,” Avery laughs, “I just follow my gut.”
And trusting her gut paid off well.
Not only was the movie a critic and audience hit, but the transformational wedding dress worn by Samara Weaving became a piece of iconography and entirely synonymous with what the story represented. The craft, the detail, and care that Avery and her team had put into the costumes received their rightful praise. “My goal going into this project was to just enjoy the process as much as possible and not care about the end-product. And every time I have gone into a project with that attitude is the times where I have been the most proud of what I have done because it hasn’t been about the end result,” she says, “I think the focus and attention to detail when I have gone with that method of filmmaking… It just turns out better.”
The Making of the Wedding Dress
In the script, what is now an iconic design, was only described as a ‘big puffy wedding dress,’ so Avery had a lot of free-range to play with. In conversation with the creative team, she began noting down the different textiles and fabrics she wanted to use in its composition, all taking into account the tempo of degradation it would go through over the course of the film. “Tyler [Gillett], one of the directors, really wanted to incorporate lace into the dress because it would show blood so well,” she explains, “And then I really wanted to incorporate tulle because I know how well tulle, which her skirt is made out of, rips.” They were trying to find the textures and fabrics that would look the most beautiful while distressed and showcase the turmoil of blood and dirt and slashes it would go through. Or was Avery put it, “something we could really trash.”
In addition to the specific textures fuel by action, Avery also took inspiration from Kate Middleton (Duchess of Cambridge, wife of Prince William) as she, like Grace, was a commoner who married into ‘the elite.’ “I also wanted everything to be as long as possible so that you can kind of take as much as possible away from the dress,” the costume designer added. This was not an ordinary wedding dress. This was very specifically designed for this character and story. And to be fair, it wasn’t just one dress either. Between Weaving, stuntwomen, and the five stages of change, it mounted up to twenty-four costumes altogether. And then, it is actually not a dress at all, but rather a five-part outfit consisting of a corset, lace top, overskirt, underskirt, and a sash, painting the illusion of your usual gown but providing excellent filmmaking flexibility.
“Sam had to do really quick – she is such a trooper that woman, I just, I don’t know that any other actor would have been so “go with the flow” with what she went through in terms of, like, the cold and blood! But we would do quick changes on set with her, so sometimes it would be like, oh, she actually just needs to change her top. And so I separated all the pieces that way,” she says, “As the project had no money, we would maximise the amount of time the camera would have with her based on being able to change efficiently on set.”
Breaking it Into Phases
“I’m really into spreadsheets,” Avery laughs, swearing she’s serious, “Costume design is so much organisation and so much financial management, so I have spreadsheets for everything. I have been like that since I was in high school.” One of the spreadsheets for this film was dedicated to moments of importance in the script. “It’s called a script breakdown. So you go through the script, you figure out how many changes there are, you flag what happens to [the characters]. So I flagged every single thing that happened to Grace in the script, and then I broke down different phases of the dress,” she explains, “so within each phase would be several things that happen to the dress, and so we figured out a method of breakdown and ageing and dyeing through that spreadsheet.” And that also outlined why it was so expensive to make for the producers who didn’t understand the process and importance of costume designing.
But Avery also wanted to flag a point of change to the dress, but Grace as a character. So she sat down with the Radio Silence guys and asked – what is the scene where a switch flicks in Grace? “I wanna show the switchover with her dress just straight up getting darker.” And that’s what she did. There’s a point in the movie where Grace falls down a pit filled with goat carcasses. It’s a horrific scene, and once she gets out of it, a part of her has died. Avery adds, “[The dress] is muted. The life and the joy of the purity of the white is completely taken out of it.” It’s a switch from naivety to a tribal need for survival.
It’s clear that this was more than just a job. The precision and thoughtfulness within this design are visible in all areas. For the filmmaking, it is not only made with fabrics explicitly chosen for their cinematic visuals, but it is jointed in a way that allows for flexibility on set and values the shooting time above all else. As a tool of storytelling, it is a sign of progression (or regression, however you look at it) and deepens the emotional impact through, i.e. the goat carcass dress, which features a minimal change that most might not notice right away. Still, they will feel that lifelessness creep up on them subconsciously as they watch. They know a change has happened, that a point of no return has been reached, and a huge part of that comes from the visual representation of the dress.
In terms of character and themes, the functionality of the dress – how the character uses this dress which symbolises her marriage to tyranny as both a weapon against the tyrants and as a bandage for the wounds they cause – is immensely powerful and speaks to a very profound feminist subtext. This may initially have been a dress meant to cage her, but she took it back and made it her own. As Avery Plewes put it: “Marriage is such a traditional, patriarchal institution, and she just completely disassembles that and re-appropriates that symbol as a tool for her, which I just love as a concept.”
Learn even more about Avery’s career journey, the creative process behind this film, behind-the-scenes experiences, and find out where the infamous dresses are hiding by listening to the 46th episode of Making It: Women in Film: Storytelling Through Clothing. Available now on Spotify and wherever else you get your podcasts.
Written by Malin Evita
Evita is the host and producer of the podcast, Instagram curator, and a writer focused on script, cultural commentary, and film analysis. She is a Vocal grand prize winner and currently studies Professional Writing at college. Through storytelling, she aims to amplify empathy and human connectivity.