Cheap Thrills (2013)

Get Ready for the Night of Your Life.

Everybody has a price. What amount of money would it take for you to do something immoral, indecent or downright wrong? What would the circumstances have to be if you were to throw away your morals and ethics to do whatever it takes to come out on top? This is the concept explored in E.L. Katz’s directorial debut Cheap Thrills.

Struggling writer Craig (Pat Healy) is finding it difficult to make ends meet. After finding an eviction notice at his front door, Craig attempts to ask his boss for a promotion at his blue-collar job. Things take a turn for the worse when, instead of being promoted, Craig is laid off, with rent to pay and a child to care for Craig is left desperate for cash. While drowning his sorrows at a sleazy bar, Craig runs into childhood buddy Vince (Ethan Embry), who is now a petty collection thug.

Darn it ... I think I broke a nail!
Darn it … I think I broke a nail!

While at the bar, Craig and Vince are targeted by the cashed-up couple Colin (David Koechner) and his hot, much younger, largely silent wife Violet (Sara Paxton), who are apparently celebrating Violet’s birthday. In order to have a bit of birthday ‘fun’ Colin asks the guys to take part in some cheeky stunts at the bar to earn some of Colin’s cash, $20 here, and $40 there. Things escalate when Colin insists that Craig and Vince move the party to his house, where the stakes get higher, the rewards get larger and things spiral out-of-control with each new task crazier than the last.

The film really works since the pair’s willingness to indulge in these acts is rather plausible as their dire blue-collar situations almost demand they push on and continue with Colin’s tasks; this is where most of the grotesquely uncomfortable, but highly entertaining set pieces occur. It’s almost impossible to look away, audiences will almost certainly be pondering what insane act Colin has prepared for the duo next. It’s difficult to decide whether one should be laughing or cringing at the events being presented on screen as the subjects are humiliated and degraded, or put through the ringer, making the whole experience rather unpleasant for some.

David Koechner, Anchorman: the Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), gives a terrifically twisted performance as Colin; Koechner nails the character as he comes off rather likable yet alarmingly twisted. Nineties teenage heartthrob Ethan Embry, Can’t Hardly Wait (1998), plays against his stereotype as the ex-criminal Vince in an almost unrecognisable role, while Sara Paxton, The Last House on the Left (2009), plays Violet with a warped subtleness, coming off as sexy and mysterious. The film is truly accelerated with Pat Healy’s, The Innkeepers (2011), genuine portrayal of Craig, a man on the edge, willing to do whatever it takes to look out for his family, and his performance really drives the whole picture along.

This status is going to get a hundred 'likes' ... Just sayin' ...
This status is going to get a hundred ‘likes’ … Just sayin’ …

At times, Cheap Thrills tries to explore class and social imbalance, similarly to Michael Haneke’s Funny Games films or Rob Grant’s Mon Ami (2012), but gets too caught up in its own stomach-churning set pieces to become anything else. Director E.L. Katz and screen writers David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga should be commended for the firm understanding of their craft here, as they are able to build an entrancing film, that pretty much only takes place in three single location settings.

Cheap Thrills, contrary to it’s title, is certainly not short on thrills, it really succeeds thanks to some solid character work by it’s leads and a tight, unpredictable script, virtually impossible to foresee exactly where the story is climatically headed; it’s tough to turn away. Its last fifteen minutes are surprisingly shocking and cult fans will no doubt remember the final shot for years to come.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Cheap Thrills is released through Madman Entertainment Australia