Review: ‘The Price We Pay’ (2023), starring Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff

February 27, 2023

by Carla Hay

Emile Hirsch in “The Price We Pay” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“The Price We Pay” (2023)

Directed by Ryûhei Kitamura

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Mexico, the horror film “The Price We Pay” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one Latina and one Asian person) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: Three criminals kidnap a woman during an armed robbery of a pawn shop, and the four of them end up at a remote farm inhabited by a family of serial killers. 

Culture Audience: “The Price We Pay” will appeal primarily to people who like mindless slasher films with no originality.

Stephen Dorff and Gigi Zumbado in “The Price We Pay” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“The Price We Pay” is yet another tedious and moronic slasher flick that’s a very bad imitation of 1974’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” If you’re going to copy a horror classic, at least make it compelling. “The Price We Pay” fails miserably on every level.

Directed by Ryûhei Kitamura and written by Christopher Jolley, “The Price We Pay” has so many unimaginative clichés and badly staged action sequences, the cast members could have been replaced by robots, and it still would’ve looked like the same awful mess. Actually, robots would probably have done a better job than most of the human actors who give soulless and stiff performances in “The Price We Pay.” Everything becomes so predictable and repetitive, it drains the movie of any suspense that it might have intended.

“The Price We Pay” takes place in an unnamed city in New Mexico. (The movie was actually filmed in Las Cruces, New Mexico.) The opening scene shows a sex worker in her 20s named Carly (played by Sabina Mach) being thrown out of a truck by a recent customer named John (played by Jesse Kinser), who leaves her stranded at a remote gas station before he drives away. Carly goes inside a stall of the gas station’s restroom, where viewers see that she has stolen John’s wallet.

Suddenly, a man wearing heavy work boots walks up to the stall and creepily stands in front of the closed stall door where Carly is, but he says nothing. A terrified Carly can only see this man’s feet, and she doesn’t want to open the door. As a distraction, she slides the wallet underneath the stall and across the floor, thinking that this weird stranger will take the wallet and leave. The man eventually walks away.

And it’s at this point you know that just because he walked away doesn’t mean he left. Carly hesitantly opens the stall door. And the next thing she knows, she is wounded by a dart and then dragged outside. Viewers can easily guess what happens to Carly.

Meanwhile, in another part of town, a woman in her 20s named Grace (played by Gigi Zumbado) is in the back room of a pawn shop, where she is negotiating a debt that she owes to the pawn shop’s sleazy-looking owner/manager Mr. Fuller (played by Heath Hensley), because she’s four weeks overdue on an unspecified payment. Grace offers to sell more items at the pawn shop to cover part of the debt. Their negotiations are interrupted when Grace and Mr. Fuller notice on the security cameras that there’s an armed robbery in progress in the front part of the pawn shop.

Mr. Fuller takes a gun and goes to the front to defend his shop. He is shot dead, but not before shooting one of the robbers in the robber’s right leg. A pawn shop worker (played by Nick Check) is part of the shootout, but he is easily outnumbered by the three robbers, so he is shot to death too. Grace hides in the back room, where she tries to find a way to escape.

The ringleader of this criminal trio is named Cody (played by Stephen Dorff), who sees Grace in the back room and captures her. Cody and his two cronies—Alex (played by Emile Hirsch) and Alex’s younger brother Shane (played by Tanner Zagarino)—then kidnap Grace and force her to let them take her car in their getaway. Shane is the robber with the injured leg. Even though it’s later revealed that Alex hired Cody (a former military guy) for this robbery, Cody is the one who acts like he’s in charge the entire time.

These dimwitted criminals are in a panic and don’t have a plan. They don’t want to go a hospital, because Shane’s gunshot wound will be reported to the police. As so, the thieves and Grace drive around aimlessly in a backwoods area until the car runs out of gas and then malfunctions and is unable to operate. It’s late at night, and there’s no chance that any mechanic shops in the area will be open.

They walk around until they find what they think might be a safe place to hide out: an isolated farm. Someone is at the farm when they arrive: a harmless-looking teenager named Danny (played by Tyler Sanders), who says he lives there with his grandfather, who is not home a the moment, but the grandfather will be home soon. Cody has noticed that there’s an empty barn on the property. Before approaching Danny to ask to temporarily stay in the barn, Cody tells Grace to go along with whatever Cody does.

Cody and Grace pretend that they are married and are looking for a place to stay for a few hours because their car unexpectedly broke down. Cody turns on the charm, begs Danny to let them stay in the barn, and promises that they will be gone in the morning. Danny reluctantly agrees. What Cody doesn’t tell Danny is that they have a guy with them with a bullet wound.

Because the trailer for “The Price We Pay” already reveals that this farm is inhabited by a family of serial killers who capture and torture these four visitors, it should come as no surprise when it happens. Danny’s grandfather, whose only name in the movie is The Doctor (played by Vernon Wells), acts like a surgeon from hell. And he likes to use a dart to incapacitate his victims before killing them.

There’s another member of the family who’s also a murderous accomplice: The Doctor’s daughter Jodi (played by Erika Ervin), a towering and mute slaughterer, who has disheveled hair and wears a tattered mask. The Jodi character is basically a ripoff of “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” villain Leatherface, but not nearly as terrifying.

Dorff is the only member of the cast who looks like he’s making some effort to have a personality for his character. Very little is revealed about any of the hollow characters in this movie. Any few personal details about the characters that are revealed have no real bearing on the overall story. The killers’ motives are murky at best. “The Price We Pay” is not only the movie’s title but it can also describe the unfortunate experience of anyone who wastes time watching this repulsive dreck.

Lionsgate released “The Price We Pay” on digital and VOD on January 10, 2023, and in select U.S. cinemas on January 13, 2023.

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