“Devil’s Hollow” is a downbeat, torpid thriller of the Appalachian Gothic persuasion. A few solid performances and a strong sense of place never quite lift this formulaic melodrama out of the funk it wallows in.
Shuler Hensley stars as Bobby Hawkins, fresh out of 13 years in La Grange prison, still confined to house arrest by an ankle monitor. He’s returned to the farm where he grew up, not to “work it,” but to sit and mope, master his cell phone and occasionally summon the lone sex worker here in BFE, Kentucky.
Bobby has history here — with his old running mate, Birdy (Will Hawkes), who has found Jesus and become a First Baptist regular, with his barmaid ex, Kelly (Kelly Shipe), with the daughter he barely knows (Skyler Hensley) and with the ringleader of the criminal crew he used to run with, Harry Casper (David Dwyer, pretty damned menacing).
Harry’s the guy who figures that Bobby, after doing jail time the others dodged, still owes him money from that “First National job.” Bobby insists the member of their quartet who disapppeared got it all, but Harry doens’t want to hear it.
And by the way, Bobby’s daughter somehow wound up in crime-boss Harry’s care. So things are complicated, and about to get moreso.
“Devil’s Hollow,” which Bobby apparently forgot how to pronounce while in stir (Real Appalachian folk I know still say “Holler.”) is the sort of place where an ex-con can have a nip with his probation officer (Patrick Mitchell) and expect no help from the sheriff (Emma Thorne) when Harry’s henchmen come to collect.
There’s enough here that you can see the makings of a better indie film than writer-director Chris Easterly got out of this raw material. Tropes and recycled plots and sequences that we know are coming abound.
But as tropes go, if there’s a better way to start a dark backwoods tale of money, family and murder than the sight of a 40something loner, gone-to-seed, digging a hole by lantern light as he narrates-drawls “I don’t know where to begin, really,” I haven’t run across it.
Rating: unrated, violence, sexual content
Cast: Shuler Hensley, David Dwyer, Skyler Hensley, Will Hawkes, Kelly Shipe, Patrick Mitchell and Emma Thorne
Credits: Scripted and directed by Chris Easterly. Self Distributed
Running time: 1:17