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Review: The Devil to Pay (2019)

The Devil to Pay is the first feature from writer/directors Lane Skye and Ruckus Skye, best known for their work on the script for Becky. The film won acclaim on its festival run under its original title, Reckoning, and that word features prominently in the ads for its release.

Lemon (Danielle Deadwyler) lives on a small farm in the Appalachian wilderness with her husband Tarlee and their son Coy (Ezra Haslam). One day, her husband doesn’t come home. Shortly after, she’s summoned to the home of Tommy Runion (Catherine Dyer, Stranger Things), the matriarch of the family that runs the county. It seems Tarlee was doing something for her when he disappeared. If Lemon can’t find him, Tommy will have Coy killed.

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Things quickly go from bad to worse as she finds his truck, and what looks like his severed hands. Then Coy is kidnapped and Lemon is caught in the middle of a decades-old feud.

The Devil to Pay lacks the over-the-top gore of Becky for what I would assume were budgetary reasons. There are some nasty deaths, including one that involves a beaker of sulfuric acid, but for the most part, the details are kept off-screen. And that’s too bad because the plot is filled with nasty people capable of doing very nasty things. Burial alive comes up more than once as a potential fate for characters. As does the murder of Coy. And the more the plot unravels, and the details are revealed, the more you want to see these people meet a nasty end.

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And the way the plot unravels is part of what makes The Devil to Pay work so well. It’s a nicely done slow burn that introduces us to the characters and situation. And lets us see how evil the Runions are. Then it lets the last of the details out, and we see they’re even worse than we thought. Which then sets up the bloody last act.

To make that plot work, however, the Skyes have to stretch things a little. We’re told that this region is ruled by a code that’s several hundred years old. A code that still calls for cutting off hands, killing children, etc. And it seems a little too convenient that there’s a rather dangerously unbalanced cult just up the road. Then again, maybe the script should have played these elements up more and given The Devil to Pay a truly alternate reality feel.

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Danielle Deadwyler is excellent in the lead, radiating anger and desperation as the victimized heroine. Catherine Dyer is chilling as her adversary, who can go from talking about baking to threatening murder without pausing. The Runion menfolk Wade (Jayson Warner Smith, Beacon Point, St. Agatha), Bull (Adam Boyer, Halloween 2) and Dixon (Brad Carter, Run With the Hunted) make colourful and convincing villains.

The Devil to Pay will open in Drive-in theatres October 2nd and On-Demand and DVD October 6th via Uncork’d Entertainment and Dark Star Pictures. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more information.

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