The Price We Pay (2023) Review
The Price We Pay was directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (The Doorman, Godzilla: Final Wars), written by Christopher Jolley (The Ghosts of Borley Rectory, Doll Cemetery), and stars Gigi Zumbado (A Night to Regret, Tone-Deaf), Stephen Dorff (FeardotCom, Old Henry), Emile Hirsch (Son, Devil’s Workshop), Vernon Wells (Commando, Frost), Erika Ervin (Chimera Strain, American Horror Story), and Tanner Zagarino (Pool Boy Nightmare, Vinny Mancuso’s Rules for Good Business). It’s about a group of robbers and their hostage finding out that the farmhouse they’ve taken refuge in is far from the haven they thought it would be, forcing them to survive the owners’ onslaught.
The Plot: Kitamura once again returns to the well of threadbare activities in secluded locations. This time, Jolley takes the helmer’s film to a farmhouse, and that’s right about where the plot developments end. It’s a simple and heavily disappointing choice to focus on nothing.
After a prologue showing a prostitute being dumped at a quiet gas station and kidnapped by an as-of-yet-unseen figure, The Price We Pay returns to earlier in the day to see Grace (Zumbado) at a nearby pawnshop to do some less lurid things, only for the place to be held up by Alex (Hirsch), Cody (Dorff), and Shane (Zagarino). While it’s another element that’s been done to death, this opening at least gets the action in motion, as the men take Grace and her car as far as they can go to get away from any investigators.
Because this is a movie made under Kitamura, the characters arrive at an old farmhouse that – no surprise – contains more than an innocent couple and livestock. Despite warnings of what’s inside, the foursome sticks around and is soon caught by The Doctor (Wells; always a plus) and Jodi (Ervin) and are forced to escape and survive. There’s nothing in The Price We Pay’s script that beats the stalwarts of the general story, and that’s simply because there’s not much in the script to begin with. It’s not a story that requires depth, but anything to set it apart would be preferred, and Jolley doesn’t put out aside from one late-game twist.
The Characters: Clearly designed to be a modern B-movie, the filmmakers refrain from motivations, likeability, and any sort of development in order to maintain momentum. Admirable, but all movies need at least someone to retain interest; no one’s home here.
Grace merely exists throughout the runtime of The Price We Pay. When she’s first seen it’s indicated that she doesn’t have much to her name, as the pawnshop owner (and landlord?) says she’s short on rent and things to pawn. What put her in this position is unknown and never even hinted at. Making this worse is her complete lack of action. When she’s kidnapped she doesn’t run, fight, or even argue; this never changes either. Realistically, she doesn’t even need to be in the movie.
Each of the thieving characters is reduced to their most basic concepts, with Alex, Cody, and Shane being representative of the tic-filled, hotheaded sociopath (in this case rolling dice like some kind of Two-Face knockoff), the restrained but prepared-for-anything planner (in this case an ex-Army Ranger), and the third wheel respectively. The two recognizable faces in this group do what they can to enhance the archetypes but one can almost see their strain to do so with such empty material.
Both of the “farmers” receive more background information and insinuation than any of the main cast, and it’s hard to fathom why this is considering the fear of the unknown that could’ve come with them. What they do is obvious, but the insistence on giving them both a motive beyond the surface level is a hindrance. It’s like the characters were written backward without the benefit of the hindsight that would come with it.
The Thrills: Essentially skewing one of his earlier films by a marginal degree, Kitamura doesn’t make anything new here, and what does come is inferior and rather pointless.
Unexpected robberies are pulse-pounders in their own right, but The Price We Pay doesn’t ever bother to make its own holdup anything interesting. The three men (originally four, but the getaway driver bailed at the last minute) roll in with guns and masks, and their yelling gives Grace some time to hide, but it’s all just noise since the predictable script virtually ensures that the inconveniently placed woman will be along for the ride. The clerk dies and the crooks bail. You know the drill.
Discoveries made by the fugitives come as a surprise, as Alex wanders his way to the lower levels of the barn to find a series of cells while the others have little choice but to watch from the guest houses as the Doctor and Jodi arrive. Naturally, the temporary guests get jittery, making the decisions less dumb and their inevitable capture plausible. What doesn’t work here is the payoff – or rather, the lack thereof – of the prologue’s prostitute, as the audience is keyed in on what they need to know before her return, which lasts all of 30 seconds and is a cheap way to get the farmers moving.
Gore is promised and gore is provided in The Price We Pay, but it mostly arrives in the last 35 minutes, and the film moves through its core intention too quickly. As soon as the four protagonists (for lack of a better term) are captured, two of them are harvested within ten minutes. Obviously, the other two have to make it out alive if possible, but the movie is too eager to show all of its gruesomeness and fails to balance the shock of the situation with its resolution.
It’s not an unexciting third act, but the wobbly nature of it barely covers the blandness of the first two. Some gorehounds might come away more satisfied than most, but even they will be left wanting, I’m sure.
The Technics: The theme of working backward continues for the director, who basically downsizes his technique and style to equally diminished returns. Never awfully constructed, the film just falls flat.
An 86-minute grindhouse celebration sounds great in theory, but under Jolley and editor Shohei Kitajima (Baton, Downrange) – who doesn’t cut the fat like Wells’ character does – The Price We Pay runs longer than it should with a script as flimsy as this one. Kitamura’s usage of tired tropes like classical and opera music playing during the most violent scenes and filler shots sans dialogue only make the movie feel longer.
Visually, there’s some merit here. Not much, but some. Makeup designer Pepper J. Gallegos (Dig, Terminator Salvation) carries out the director’s gross-out visuals with aplomb. The wounds that squirt blood like fountains and the eventual prosthetic gore convince despite the unoriginality of what the script demands. A very open-heart surgery, a hand cut in half, and an eyeball removal are just a few things that can be expected here.
Cinematographer Matthias Schubert (Satanic Hispanics, The Shed) doesn’t deliver the eye candy (pun if you want it) like the makeup department does, though. There’s almost nothing of interest to capture for the first 45 minutes, leaving the cameras to swivel, spin, and pan until the director gets to scenes of merit. Even then, the approach doesn’t change; this is possibly more nauseating than the chopping and slicing.
Weakly rehashing his own previous works, Kitamura provides nothing he hasn’t done (and been outdone in) before with The Price We Pay. Aside from seeing greats like Dorff, Hirsch, and Wells flounder, and a half-decent third act, it’s a filler film if ever there was one.
The Price We Pay is available on VOD and Digital platforms via Lionsgate. It comes to DVD and Blu-ray on February 21st. If you’re looking for more films like this, FilmTagger has a few suggestions.