The Devil To Pay took me by surprise! When I was told about the screener it came with an editor’s note saying… “A nice thriller for you. I love these ‘in the woods’ movies.”…so I had started to make up my mind what I was about to see and, if I’m honest, “psycho with an axe” was right up there! Throw in that it is set and shot in Appalachia, and the stereotypes start flooding in. You just need a banjo heavy sound track… aaand there it is.
To be honest, that might be the wild goose that the makers of The Devil To Pay want you to chase.
The film opens with views of mist and tree covered mountains acting as background for text explaining how — in the 18th century — anyone escaping, duty, and oppression took to those particular hills. Only the toughest survived, and their descendants are still there and looking after themselves; a quote from a 2010 census taker says, “They want nothing from you, and God help you if you try to interfere.”
Which, in movie speak, is short for inbred, psychotic, short tempered — and no screws fully tightened — never mind loose.
So do we get a running around, screaming, and getting chopped up extravaganza? No! We get something much, much better. Perhaps a hint might be found in the fact that if you search IMDb for The Devil To Pay it finds it, but under a different name – Reckoning.
We start off with a few shots of quiet domesticity. Lemon Cassidy (beautifully played by Danielle Deadwyler) is with her son Coy (Ezra Haslam) getting ready for bed; brushing teeth, tucking in, etc. The next day is chores; feeding animals, raking leaves, gathering firewood. OK… it’s not domestic bliss but they seem happy enough, and their house may not be grand but the surroundings are gorgeous. We can tell that Lemon is a good, caring mother who only wants the best for her son.
But, as is the way of the cinematic world, being poor but happy isn’t an option, and the antagonist turns up in the form of the kindly, smiling, home-baking matriarch of the Runion family. She sets Lemon repaying an impossible debt, and has a grip on her, which has too many spoilerish elements for me to go into here.
So… isolated families, unusual communities bordering on cults, pressure being applied, a desperate mother fighting against insurmountable odds, but no axe-wielding maniac with an excess of recessive genes or a mask made out of someone else’s arse.
So how is it resolved? Quite simply it is resolved skillfully, believably, and with flair.
Well worth a watch!
Movie Grade: B+
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