As a bride terrorized by her new in-laws in the campy horror-thriller “Ready or Not,” star Samara Weaving wears but one costume — a Victorian bridal gown — that serves as a masterclass in costume design and layered storytelling.
Weaving’s dress is not just a dress — it’s a murder weapon, a first aid kit, a crash-landing pad, a tracking device, and a terrible burden for the film’s hero as she attempts to survive her wedding night.
“It has a full arc and evolution. I equate the dress to Bruce Willis’ tank top in ‘Die Hard,’ costume designer Avery Plewes told Variety.
Weaving plays Grace, a middle-class girl marrying into a dynasty whose empire sparked with novelty board games and grew into pro-sports team ownership. Turns out all that good fortune comes at a price, in the form of a ritual in which every new member of the family must participate. It’s a crapshoot that can lead to death, as poor Weaving learns. The actress is hunted through a Gothic mansion, weighed down by her gown.
“It’s actually not a dress, it’s built in 5 parts. I built them all separately so the directors could get as many takes and multiples as possible. It’s a lace shirt, a corset, a sash, lining and an overskirt,” Plewes said.
The sash is used to choke out one of her predators. A lace sleeve bandages a nasty flesh wound. Layers and layers of tulle skirting are shed so she can run through secret passages and treacherous gardens. At one point, her dramatic skirt breaks her fall from a third story window.
“I was pretty neurotic about it. I had flow charts and spreadsheets. I went line by line over the things that happen to Samara and reverse engineered how to create a dress that would photograph all these things beautifully and thoughtfully. Things like the lace were really deliberate. The directors loved lace specifically, because lace really picks up gore and blood and texture on camera,” Plewes said.
There are also socioeconomic cues in the garment.
Grace Kelly and Kate Middleton informed the decision to use lace, as “a nod to a commoner marrying into royalty — which both of those women were,” said Plewes. Early on in the film, Weaving sheds her satin heels for a pair of yellow Converse sneakers, to signal her financial status and help make the actress visible in many in numerous nighttime sequences. The shoemaker had discontinued the color yellow at the time of filming, so Plewes’ team had to hand paint the shoes.
A total of 24 dresses were created, 17 of which were worn by Weaving and five by her stunt double.
“We shot for 26 days. When you wear the same garment for that amount of time, I feel like two become one,” Plewes said. More than its utility, the costumer said the dress makes a larger statement about women and their roles in the institution of marriage.
“The dress represents the patriarchy, really, and [in this case] the unraveling of it. She’s a total feminist badass. I’ve only ever designed things with strong female or queer-identified leads. I signed on to this script as soon as I read it, because I loved her so much.”
Film co-director Matt Bettinelli-Olpin underscored the crucial plot point of Grace growing up in foster care.
“Let’s put Grace in this thing that she doesn’t really want to be in. She wants to be a part of this family, because she wants a family. But it’s these ideas that are sort of forced on her that she rips off over the course of the movie,” he said. “We never wanted to fall into the exploitative version of that, we still wanted it to be that she’s fucking bad ass, she’s owning this dress, she’s making it do what she needs it to do. She’s using it to her advantage.”
Meredith Woerner contributed to this report.