Genre fans will get their money’s worth from “The Price We Pay,” a violent and grisly crime-horror-action outing with no pretensions of being anything else. What this tale of crooks holed up at a lonely farm with a hideous secret lacks in originality it makes up for with energetic direction by Ryuhei Kitamura (“Midnight Meat Train”), excellent practical gore effects and strong performances by a quality cast including Emile Hirsch, Stephen Dorff and Gigi Zumbado. The kind of no-nonsense exploitation film that once had ’em hootin’ at the grindhouse, VOD-available “Price” will be released on limited screens by Lionsgate on Jan. 13.
The bodies start piling up soon after Grace (Zumbado of “Bridge and Tunnel”) enters a pawn shop on the outskirts of a dusty town. Down on her luck and badly in debt to the shop’s sleazy owner, Grace hardly has time to fend off his advances before the joint is raided by armed robbers Cody (Dorff), Alex (Hirsch) and Alex’s brother, Shane (Tanner Zagarino). In the aftermath of an impressively staged bloodbath, Grace is taken hostage and forced to act as getaway driver.
With Shane badly wounded and road blocks everywhere, Grace drives down a dirt road to the middle of nowhere. In the time-honored tradition of such tales, her car breaks down near what seems to be an abandoned ranch. By now we’ve discovered Cody is an ex-army medic with something at least resembling a conscience, Grace was raised as an army brat and Alex is a smiling psychopath who enjoys the act of killing and berates his brother for whining about his life-threatening bullet wound.
Far from being abandoned, the ranch is home to Danny (Tyler Sanders), a nervous teenager who offers Cody and company shelter for the night. The tone Danny adopts when he says “my grandpa is out at the moment” leaves no doubt that terrible things will happen once grandpa returns. Sure enough, Grandpa (played by Aussie actor Vernon Wells, of enduring cult status for his role as post-apocalyptic fighting machine Wez in “The Road Warrior”) is a demented doctor who’s built a vast surgery-laboratory-prison complex beneath the innocent-looking family homestead.
The only ho-hum parts of the film are those in which Grandpa carries out his ghastly work while listening to the famous Nassun Dorma aria from Puccini’s “Turandot” and pontificating about his glorious mission to rid the world of evil men and give hope to the less fortunate. But these are only minor bumps in an otherwise pacy survival thriller punctuated by extremely gory non-elective surgery and gruesome corpse disposal activities carried out by Grandpa’s hulking masked female sidekick, Jodi, played by 6-foot-8 model-actor Erika Ervin, aka Amazon Eve (“American Horror Story”).
Dorff is rock solid as the former military man with a soft heart. In her highest profile feature film role to date, Zumbado is convincing and appealing as the troubled young woman whose quick thinking holds the key to her survival. Hirsch relishes the opportunity to play a sicko psycho, but is let down by scripting that gives his character some initially intriguing details such as a penchant for dice-rolling but ultimately fails to make Alex as interesting or dangerous as he might have been.
Kitamura’s stylish direction, DP Matthias Schubert’s vivid, color-drenched images and a crunching score by Kitamura’s frequent collaborator Aldo Shllaku makes sure there’s barely a dull moment even in such familiar surrounds. We’ve been down this road before and we’ll go there again, but “The Price We Pay” has enough gas in the tank to make the detour worthwhile. On a very sad note, the film is dedicated to the memory of Tyler Sanders, who tragically passed away on June 12, 2022, aged just 18.