By GRACE DETWILER
Starring Danielle Deadwyler, Catherine Dyer, Jayson Warner Smith
Written and Directed by Lane Skye and Ruckus Skye
Uncork’d Entertainment | Dark Star Pictures
Don’t let THE DEVIL TO PAY’s slow start deceive you; Lane and Ruckus Skye’s directorial debut packs a punch. A backwoods Appalachian tale of retribution and revenge, THE DEVIL TO PAY follows the duo’s writing success with Becky earlier this year. Centered around a mother named Lemon (Danielle Deadwyler, The Haves and the Have Nots), the film explores how the tenuous peace in a self-governed mountain community is disrupted when the sickly sweet matriarch Tommy (Catherine Dyer) believes she has been betrayed by Lemon’s husband and delivers her own brutal form of justice. Lemon is tasked with completing her husband’s failed mission, at the risk of her son’s life, who is left in the clutches of Tommy’s goons.
It is worth mentioning that THE DEVIL TO PAY isn’t really horror, with practically no on-screen gore, but is an effective thriller nonetheless. Instead, some rather vicious acts of violence are left up to the viewer’s imagination, including a few stomach-turning incidents with some flesh-melting vitriol. THE DEVIL TO PAY primarily uses its violence to offer an interesting take on how a rural community might develop a code of ‘law and order’ outside the confines of traditional society. And in spite of its unexpectedly tame violence, the reckoning Lemon serves pays off. She takes no shit and learns the hard way that no amount of hard work will pay off if the game is already rigged against you.
If THE DEVIL TO PAY’s first act drags, stick around until the pace really picks up at about the 47-minute mark. The film’s basic revenge plot is redeemed by its exceptional performances, particularly Dyer’s chilling villainy and Deadwyler’s stark emotional delivery. It is not a stretch to say that Deadwyler carries the film, which would be largely hollow without her performance’s depth. There is not quite enough exposition to invest viewers completely in Lemon’s quest for revenge, nor to fully explain the rules governing the community itself. Yet, suspension of disbelief aside, THE DEVIL TO PAY delivers cathartic vengeance and an ultimately hopeful conclusion – and is a nice trip home for the Appalachian born and raised (yours truly!).
After seeing a film brimming with so much potential, it will certainly be interesting to see what Skye & Skye do next. At a modest 87 minute run-time, THE DEVIL TO PAY is undoubtedly worth checking out. Don’t miss THE DEVIL TO PAY in select drive-ins on October 2nd, or catch it at home after the film’s VOD/DVD release on October 6th.