Deep in the Appalachian mountains, isolated homesteads survive far outside the normal rhythms of society and the state. The ties of kith and kin loom large in the lives of those that eke out an existence there, amidst a shared reluctance to call on the authorities or the law to resolve conflicts. But this is no egalitarian, autonomous utopia. Criminal clans can hold the power of life and death over their neighbours, and grudges between families can be the trigger for murderous acts of revenge.
When hardworking and dutiful young mother Lemon Cassidy receives an unwelcome visit from two enforcers from the Runion family, she recognises how serious the threat she faces is. The men keep her young son hostage, while she is sent many miles on foot to an audience with the chilling matriarch of the Runion clan. She tells Lemon that she is now responsible for her missing husband’s debt, which she must repay on pain of her death and that of her son. So begins an intense, inventive, and at times surprisingly violent thriller that tracks Lemon’s efforts to keep her and her young boy alive.
The sweeping mountains, forests and rolling grasslands of the Appalachians give The Devil to Pay (aka Reckoning) a rich sense of place and space, as does Brad Carter's banjo-infused score. But for all of that openness, this is a film marked by the claustrophobia and lack of choice that’s built from the binds of loyalty, obligation and familial feuds that pass from one generation to the next. This first feature by co-writers and co-directors Lane and Ruckus Skye is an impressive and captivating debut that, aside from an unnecessary detour into the world of a local micro-cult, is assuredly structured and paced. The film is lit up by a compelling central performance by Danielle Deadwyler as the resilient and incensed Lemon. Elsewhere, amongst what’s a strong cast, Catherine Dyer delivers a standout turn as family boss Tommy Runion, offering up death threats and home-baked treats from her kitchen lair.
The film does lean into some backwoods’ redneck archetypes. But the execution of the story is sufficiently unusual for that not to dilute the tension which builds towards a bloody and believable finale.Signature Entertainment presents The Devil to Pay on Digital Platforms on January 17th