The Price We Pay

Director: Kitamura Ryuhei
Writer: Christopher Jolley
Cast: Stephen Dorff, Emile Hirsch, Gigi Zumbado, Vernon Wells, Tanner Zagarino
Producers: Mark Andrews, Jessica Bennett, Robert Dean, Stephanie Denton, Bill Kelman, Todd Lundbohm, Andre Relis
Music: Aldo Shllaku
Cinematographer: Matthias Schubert
Running time: 85mins

NOTE: The director’s name is presented in the traditional Japanese manner of family name first.

What’s the story: When a pawn shop stick-up goes wrong, criminals Cody (Dorff) and Alex (Hirsch) hole-up in a remote ranch with Alex’s wounded brother Shane (Zagarino), and their hostage Grace (Zumbado). But, their getaway is about to get way out of control when the ranch owners get home.

What’s the verdict: The Price We Pay may have an existential sounding title, but its mission statement is purely to deliver unpretentious thrills for horror fans who like their frights messy. Liberally lifting from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, From Dusk Til Dawn, Calvaire, and Kitamura’s own No One Lives, most gore hounds will predict where the plot is heading. But, when the journey is this wild there shouldn’t be too many complaints.

British screenwriter Christopher Jolley has a CV brimming with movies that occupy the bottom shelf of Asda’s DVD rack (e.g. Essex Boys: Law of Survival, Doll Cemetery, Red Army Hooligans). So this is a big step-up, and he delivers characters worth caring about, salty dialogue, a suspenseful build-up, and several horror set pieces.

Dorff brings a sweaty intensity to his rough diamond stick-up man, whose particular set of skills prove useful later. He shares strong screen chemistry with Zumbado, good support as the wide-eyed young woman caught up in the mayhem, and carrying secrets of her own. Hirsch provides his trademark brand of amusing obnoxiousness as the unhinged Alex, scoring laughs as a character perpetually one smirk away from screwing things up more.

So it is something of a shame when the full blown horror takes over. The splatter may be plentiful, but the main characters become a secondary consideration, often taking their punishment literally lying down. The villains’ motivations are not particularly interesting, and a more evenly matched smackdown would have paid off the promise of the film’s first half. But, Vernon Wells (forever Wez from Mad Max 2 and Bennett from Commando), and the 6ft8ins tall Erika Ervin are to be credited for jumping into the movie’s spirit with OTT performances.

Director Kitamura is a perfect ringmaster for this santa sangre. He stages spectacularly gory horror with a glee that will have audiences howling with laughter or running for the exit. The editing style may be as aggressive as the baddies, but Kitamura never lets it obscure Pepper J. Gallegos and Eric Kirker’s practical make-up FX. He knows the kind of stuff that will have horror fans lighting up social media…

The Price We Pay never strives for any grand statement on crime and punishment. But, a climactic bit of evisceration is so out there it does seem to be reaching for the horror equivalent of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s stargate scene. If it doesn’t quite make it, you can’t fault Kitamura, Jolley, and co. for trying.

Rob Daniel
Twitter: rob_a_Daniel
Podcast: The Movie Robcast

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