Directed by: E.L. Katz.
Written by: David Chirchirillo & Trent Haaga.
Starring: Pat Healy (Craig Daniels), Sara Paxton (Violet), Ethan Embry (Vince), David Koechner (Colin).
Cheap Thrills is an extremely dark comedy that edges into gross out and horror territory as it moves along. The basic premise is simple – a rich couple, Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton) meet two strangers in a bar – Craig (Pat Healy) and Vince (Ethan Embry), who were friends in high school but haven’t seen each other in years. Their evening starts out with Tequila and innocent bets - $50 for to whoever can chug a shot first, $200 bucks to the guy who can get a girl at the bar to slap him in the face, etc. Eventually they go back to Colin and Violet’s house, and the stakes are raised. The couple has $250,000, and are willing to give it to the Craig and Vince if they’ll do whatever the couple tells them to do – the stakes quickly ramping up to challenges involving feces, dogs, sex and violence.
This could have been the material for a cheap gross out movie – the cinematic equivalent of Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted which was just a series of short stories that aimed at nothing more than to make the reader vomit. But Cheap Thrills is better than that with a degree of maturity and genuine satire running through its gross out premise. It all hinges on the character of Craig – and Pat Healy`s excellent performance in the role. Before the festivities begin, we see him leave his house for work in the morning, kissing his wife and baby goodbye, before finding an eviction notice on his door. At his low level garage job, his boss calls him into the office – we don’t hear much, but we hear the word downsizing, and know he`s in even more trouble. He needs $4,500 fast to keep his family in their home – and that will just get through this month. What happens next month?
Craig is a realistic character trapped in what is admittedly a not very realistic movie. The other three characters are as three dimensional as Craig is – Vince is basically a low level greedy thug, who for most of the movie seems willing to do pretty much anything to get his hands on the money. Colin and Violet aren’t seen as anything more than thoughtless rich people – who see those poorer than them as pawns just there for their own amusement. That’s not to say that the actors aren’t good in their roles – Koechner is particular is excellent, and plays off his own screen persona as a comedic idiot wonderfully.
At only 88 minutes, Cheap Thrills moves at a fairly rapid pace for most its running time – constantly upping the ante in one disturbing, yet darkly comedic, scene after another. It moves so fast in fact that you may well miss just how smart a movie this is – and just how much is going on beneath the surface of it. At its core, this is a movie about what you`re willing to sell for money – your body, your morals, your soul – and whether it’s all worth it. It’s a satire for our age of greed, when it seems like more and more people are willing to do just about anything for money.
The final scene in the movie – after the games have ended – brings it all back to where it started though. It brilliantly contrasts the opening of the movie, and shows just how much has changed from the beginning of the film. After the movie moved so rapidly, this scene slows things enough to allow you to ponder the implications of everything that happened before.