Pitched as Midsommar meets Wrong Turn, The Devil to Pay is a revenge thriller from director/writers Lane and Ruckus Skye, headed to digital platforms on 17th January. Not being a fan of Midsommar, the implied resemblance here was initially of some concern, but thankfully I needn’t have worried in the slightest.
Our setting is the Appalachia mountains, with intro titles referring to its inhabitants as “hardy folk”, who are both “self-sustaining” and “self-governing”. A quote from a 2010 census worker also goes as far as to say “They want nothing from you and God help you if you try to interfere”.
We’re introduced to Lemon Cassidy (Danielle Deadwyler), a prime example of a hardy individual, living on a small farm with husband Tarlee and their young son Coy (Ezra Haslam). Although right now, Tarlee appears to have been absent from the family home for a while, with Coy clearly starting to miss his Daddy and no real indication as to where he’s gone.
The opening scenes of a mother and son living a simple outdoor life together as they work their land helps to nicely establish their characters and the bond they share. Life may be tough, but they are clearly a close family and both come across as believable and extremely likeable. So it’s a real shame when the arrival of two men to the farm manages to throw their world into chaos. One of the men is already known to Lemon, someone who regularly comes to their property in order to collect taxes from them, but the other isn’t. He heads straight over to sit down at the dining table alongside Coy, pretending to be friendly as he picks at the food and drink laid out for him. While Coy is distracted by the stranger, the taxman informs Lemon that he and the other man will be staying in her home to watch over her son because she has been summoned to visit the matriarch of a local family, the Runions.
The arrival of the two men immediately sparks a feeling of unease and simmering tension that continues to slowly build from then on. Reluctantly leaving Coy with the two men, Lemon makes her way down the mountain, into Runion territory and into the home and kitchen of Tommy Runion (Catherine Dyer), where she finds her happily baking biscuits. And while Tommy certainly comes across all sweet and friendly, the look of worry and caution on the face of Lemon tells us a different story, putting us further on edge.
Tommy informs Lemon that her husband Tarlee had gone away on her orders to fulfil a debt, but hadn’t yet returned. She now wants Lemon to go and finish the job that he was meant to do. Tommy remains both calm and friendly throughout their little chat, even when she clenches hold of Lemon’s hand and chillingly declares that she will kill both her and her son if she refuses to do as she asks. And then, the oven timer dings and Tommy smiles once again, declaring that “The biscuits are done”, offering some to Lemon for her return journey.
Lemon then finds herself a pawn, caught up in a brutal clan war as she attempts to discover what happened to her husband and fulfil the task he set out to complete, all the while spurred on by the fact that her son is in danger and her own life is hanging in the balance. Eventually, enough is enough for Lemon, and she decides to fight back.
There’s a lot of talk about “Creed” throughout The Devil to Pay, referring to a set of laws and traditions that the region has abided by for hundreds of years. Other slang terms are used, some of which I didn’t fully understand, and the fact that this different way of living wasn’t fully explored or the language explained, became a little frustrating at times. We briefly visit a weird, hippy cult settlement, who participate in some very odd and wince-inducing rituals (presumably where the Midsommar reference comes in), and with a sign at their entrance stating that the Creed does not apply there. Another aspect that would have benefitted from further exploration.
The cinematography and score are both outstanding, adding an extra layer to the overall mood and tone, with shots of misty mountaintops and woodland accompanied by mournful banjo music occasionally mixed in with other instruments. The performances are all believable and thoroughly enjoyable, but none more so than Danielle Deadwyler. As Lemon realises that the only way out of her dilemma is to play people at their own game, her transformation into a badass killer begins, and you cannot help but root for her to get vengeance.
While The Devil to Pay is certainly brutal at times, a lot of the more unpleasant stuff is either hidden from view or off-screen completely. Presumably, this was due to a lack of budget, but there are occasions, particularly when a bad guy is getting his just desserts, that it would have benefitted from being able to show a bit more horror. However, what we do get overall is a lean, tensely executed revenge thriller that clocks in at just under 90 minutes and manages to tie everything up in a very satisfying way.
Signature Entertainment presents The Devil to Pay on Digital Platforms 17th January
See all photos >>
Web developer by day, with a movie and TV watchlist that continues to grow as much as my spare time reduces! My favourite movie is Inception and, despite what everyone says, I do not have a man-crush on Tom Cruise.