The Devil to Pay 2023 Movie Review
At times, this slow-burn indie hillbilly thriller feels like a heavy-footed stomp through the genre. It’s set in the Appalachian mountains, where a close-knit clannish community lives by its own rules; a lawless backcountry in which a lone woman takes on the meanest family on the mountain to protect her own, banjos strumming on the score. It’s not exactly strong on originality or authenticity. But what The Devil to Pay does have going for it is a performance of real emotional force by Danielle Deadwyler (best known for supporting roles in films such as the Netflix western The Harder They Fall).
Deadwyler plays Lemon Cassidy, a farmer eking out a living with her husband and little boy. Life is tough, and gets tougher still when Lemon’s husband goes missing while up to his neck in trouble with the Runions – a terrifying local family headed up by matriarch Tommy (Catherine Dyer). We meet Tommy in her kitchen, all apple-pie sweetness and giving baking tips in the same breath as she threatens to kill Lemon’s son. As a character she’s a shade too gimmicky, or perhaps Dyer goes a bit light on the menace; either way Ma Runion never feels genuinely scary.
Still, Lemon appears convincingly scared, eyes saucer-wide with terror. And she stays frightened while on her quest to find her husband and clear his debt. Usually, it seems a stretch when ordinary people turning badass in movies, instantly acquiring ice-cold killer instincts and a deadly aim. But Lemon trembles as she points her gun; in every scene she looks afraid for her life. Deadwyler’s soulful performance really grounds The Devil to Pay even as it cranks into revenge-movie mode. That said, if you want a slice of grim Americana to hunker down with, I’d go with Winter’s Bone or Frozen River.