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READY OR NOT – Brian Tyler

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Ready or Not is a fun, exciting, uproariously gory action-horror movie underpinned by a vein of black comedy. It stars Aussie actress Samara Weaving as Grace, who is about to marry Alex, the man of her dreams, the heir to the Le Domas family fortune, whose wealth comes from a multi-generational board game dynasty. However, on their wedding night, Alex reveals that his family has a tradition whereby anyone newly marrying into the family has to play a game, the nature of which is written on a card drawn from a mysterious antique box, and is unknown to everyone until the moment it is drawn. When Grace draws ‘hide and seek’ it triggers a desperate struggle for survival as the other family members – compelled by the threat of an ancient curse – have to hunt and kill Grace before dawn breaks. The film is directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, and co-stars Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, and Andie MacDowell.

The score for Ready or Not is by Brian Tyler, who by scoring this film is going a little way back toward his film music roots, and those numerous horror thriller films he scored in the early 2000s. It was scores like Frailty, Darkness Falls, and The Hunted which first put Tyler on my radar more than 15 years ago, and this score is very much in the vein of those standouts: it’s a bold, energetic, richly classical orchestral score that – like the Le Domas family – has a veneer of sophistication and elegance, but quickly descends into a gleeful explosion of musical carnage and orchestral dissonance.

The first two tracks, the “Ready or Not Overture” and the “Ready or Nocturne for Solo Violin,” introduce the score’s recurring main theme, and subjects it to numerous variations that really whet the appetite for the listener in terms of what’s in store. The Overture begins with a coolly sinister piano melody that reminds me very much of one of those superb 1990s Chris Young themes – something like Jennifer 8, or perhaps Copycat, for those who are familiar. The sound is dark and spooky, but elegant and refined, and when the melody switches from piano to fulsome strings and eventually to a full swell of the orchestra, the effect is superb. The gradual inclusion of heavier percussion adds to the sense of drama, and then at the 3:10 mark the whole thing switches into action mode with a rhythmic variation on the main theme accompanied by chugging strings, descending piano scales, and portentous brasses towards the end. The subsequent Nocturne is filled with danse macabre-style violin trills and swirls, fanciful and creative, and brilliantly fast. The main theme keeps time underneath all the instrumental extravagance via a bed of low cellos, accompanied by big booming brass chords. It’s all quite magnificent.

The rest of the score takes its cue from these opening pieces, either by enhancing the brooding sense of macabre drama, or rushing headlong into relentless action-horror territory. Cues such as “Family Members Only” and “The Truth” play around with the main theme, setting it against harp glissandi, cello figures, glockenspiels, and some unusual electronic textures, all enhancing the sense of faded opulence, where wealth and privilege has been tainted by decadence. “The Future Mrs. Le Domas” is perhaps the score’s one concession to romance, where Grace’s happiness at marrying into this family is conveyed by a restrained statement of the main theme accompanied by warmly nostalgic piano chords. The calm before the storm.

Everything else is, essentially, pure out-and-out action and horror, beginning with the moment when Grace realizes just how deadly this game of hide and seek actually is, and continuing through all her encounters with the various homicidal family members, until the unremittingly bloody finale. Tyler does some interesting things with the main theme in these cues, often reducing the actual melodic line into a 2-note motif that follows Grace around. As the family itself breaks down and becomes increasingly murderous, so too Tyler’s theme throws off its classical veneer and becomes more primal and guttural; like Grace, it is simply trying to survive until morning.

One other thing that Tyler does in the action cues is increase the electronic sound palette. While the core of the score remains predominantly orchestral, some of the more aggressive and expansive action cues use electronic pulses and synth percussion ideas to drive the action along; elsewhere, he uses more dissonant industrial textures to really hammer home the horror of what is happening. The electronics never take over the score in any way – the whole thing remains primarily driven by the orchestra the entire time – but Tyler’s electronic ideas are at times quite interesting and creative.

Several action cues stand out as being especially impressive. “Here We Come,” which underscores the moment the family stops being loving in-laws and turns violent, features a noticeably excellent howling brass pedal idea, bending strings, and apprehensive-sounding piano chords. “Badass Bride” is determined and forceful, and charts Grace’s change from potential victim to someone who is clearly not going out without a fight; initially, the main theme on piano is subtle, perhaps a little distressed, but by the end Tyler has increased the electronic quotient and underpinned the theme with a string ostinato and deep, grinding textures that take no prisoners. “Gearing Up” has a similar attitude, and is filled with throbbing string runs, brass chords, heavy percussion hits, and growling electronics,. This cue also contains what appears to be a rueful statement of Alex & Grace’s love theme on cellos, one of the few times that melody makes a prominent appearance.

“Tea Time” underscores the deadly encounter between Grace and Stevens the family butler in the servant quarters kitchen. Here, Tyler arranges a deconstructed version of the main theme with a classical piano undercurrent – acknowledging the butler’s love of Tchaikovsky and Wagner – but by the end of the cue it has exploded into action, full of throbbing cellos and dark brass. “Waiter, Dumb” offers more of the same, albeit featuring an unusual tapping sound as part of the percussion section, and some crushing metallic dissonance towards the end. “Joy (B) Ride” is quite overwhelmingly brutal, and is notable for its use of stabbing strings, Horner-style crashing pianos, and an enormous twisted statement of the main theme in its conclusion.

For me, the pick of the action-horror cues is “The Pit,” which underscores the disturbing scene where Grace has to escape from a pit filled with dead bodies and all manner of viscous viscera, located underneath the Le Domas family goat shed. This cue is a tour de force that compares favorably with things like “Evil Rises” from Darkness Falls, or “Decimation Proclamation” from Alien vs. Predator: Requiem; there are enormous explosions of dissonance, crazy calliope sounds, and a great array of confusing, distorted orchestral chaos, all of which eventually coalesces into a wonderful sequence for throbbing cellos overlaid with fluttering violins and heroic brass, as Grace summons every ounce of energy and every last drop of self-reservation fighting spirit to ascend a ladder to safety.

The finale of the score is “The Ritual,” which is filled with churning heavy percussion, and increasingly overwhelming orchestral dissonance. The second half of the cue contains perhaps the most brutal action music in the entire score – it’s simply relentless – but it’s to Tyler’s credit that he ensures that the listener can hear the cellos performing the rhythmic part of the main theme under all the orchestral mayhem. The conclusive “I Choose Her” is distressed, exhausted, but also perhaps a little ironically wry and manic; there is the vaguest hint of a voice, perhaps from an electronic sample, and then as the cue reaches its conclusion Tyler uses a set of collapsing, descending figures to lead into his final performance of the main theme on dark, dark strings.

The album is rounded out by two songs; “The Hide and Seek Song” performed by Headquarters Music is supposed to be an old-fashioned song that plays on an antique gramophone as a precursor to the game beginning. It’s written and performed with the old-timey music hall sound of someone like Flanagan & Allen, and in context it’s all manner of creepy. “Love Me Tender” is a modern cover version of the classic Elvis Presley song performed by the Detroit-based rock duo Stereo Jane.

Ready or Not is a fun action-horror score that never takes itself seriously, but is musically accomplished enough to be worth exploring. The main theme is a wonderfully elegant throwback to the 1990s, and Tyler is clever enough to manipulate it into numerous variations and deconstructions which allow it to run throughout the entire score without becoming tiresome. The action music is bold, ballsy, and occasionally over-the-top, but consistently entertaining, with some especially notable rhythmic ideas and moments of devastating dissonance that will absolutely appeal to fans of the genre. This is one score that you won’t want to hide from, and that you’ll want to seek out immediately.

Buy the Ready or Not soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Ready or Not Overture (4:24)
  • Ready or Nocturne for Solo Violin (1:24)
  • Family Members Only (3:41)
  • The Truth (3:15)
  • Here We Come (3:32)
  • Badass Bride (3:09)
  • Mistaken Identity (3:21)
  • Our Burden (2:34)
  • Gearing Up (2:09)
  • The Future Mrs. Le Domas (2:30)
  • Tea Time (3:43)
  • Waiter, Dumb (2:35)
  • The Butler’s Sonatina (1:03)
  • The Pit (4:15)
  • Til Death Do Us Part (2:32)
  • Joy (B) Ride (4:52)
  • The Ritual (6:29)
  • I Choose Her (3:29)
  • The Hide and Seek Song (written by James Balrian, Louis N. Castle, Daniel Iannantuono, and Darren Howard, performed by Headquarters Music) (1:54)
  • Love Me Tender (written by Vera Matson and Elvis Presley, performed by Stereo Jane) (2:13)

Running Time: 63 minutes 04 seconds

Fox Music (2019)

Music composed by Brian Tyler. Conducted by Brian Tyler and Allan Wilson. Performed by The Slovak National Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Brian Tyler, Dana Niu, Robert Elhai, Brad Warnaar and Rossano Galante. Additional arrangements by Max Lombardo, Gregory Reveret, Kenny Wood and Josh Zimmerman. Recorded and mixed by Peter Fuchs, Greg Hayes and Brian Tyler. Edited by Kyle Clausen and Kevin Banks. Album produced by Brian Tyler an Joe Lisanti.

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