What would you do for money? What excruciating and indescribable lengths would someone to go for money? A lot of money? Whether it be to support their family, to live comfortable, to avoid debt, anything. Director E.L Katz is curious of the answer with his feature début, Cheap Thrills. It’s depraved, it’s revolting, but is it any good as a film? Do we have anyone to cling onto amidst the madness? My review after the jump.
Craig (Pat Healy) is a quiet and humble family man living with his wife and 10 month old son. They’re in debt. Their apartment is up for foreclosure and he just lost his job changing oil in a mechanics garage. Things just aren’t looking good. However if things aren’t about to get worse, they’re certainly going to get strange. Enter Vince (Ethan Embry), an old buddy from high school. They haven’t seen each other in 5 years and thought it was about time to have a drink and catch up. Both are in debt, one more considerably so than the other but it’s made clear, both are in real financial trouble. If fate were to have it, at this very same bar is Colin (David Koechner) and his young bride Violet (Sara Paxton). They’re crazy, drugged up and richer than anything. Their paths cross, money is spent and drinks are had. Then things get creative in the most unpleasant ways. They’re each offered large sums of money by Colin to complete a series of dares. Before anything else can be said, let’s just agree that these dares get worse…and I mean much worse. Exactly what lengths will these two friends go to? Will Craig Have enough to protect his family from foreclosure and debt and just how depraved are this couple?
Before ANYTHING about Cheap Thrills can be critiqued, it must be said, the film’s greatest strength are the performances – everyone across the board is exceptionally brilliant. For a film of this calibre to even be considered convincing throughout its 90 minute running time is an incredible attribute, and the performances are a staple of that. Koechner and Embry (both known for their roles in comedies) really resurrect their characters from a script that could’ve easily given them a dimension or two. Oh yeah, the screenplay, well..
Written by David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga the story and plot progress well, giving scenes and moments room to breathe so the audience has a minute to familiarize themselves with the next challenge and story turn. It makes for very easy viewing, despite content. The downfall, are its characters, well, one, really. The female character is unfortunately wasted, the signature mark of a black comedy-horror film, when the only woman in the room says very little and wears just as much but is supposed to be “mysterious”. If not that, then the female would be a protagonist yet only due to her vulnerability (Evil Dead being an example). Cheap Thrills uses Violet as the former and sadly, brings the film down considerably.
Some won’t agree with this and simply say it comes down to a limited number of characters in the space to begin with. But when you’re surrounded by coked up men making poor decisions, you do wonder what the observational female in the room has to say. This is a shame considering there’s a real intelligence to the story’s progression and the multi-dimensional friendship had by the film’s two male protagonists. It’s called Cheap Thrills, yet only really proves cheap towards the film’s end when the activities the character’s are partaking in go beyond vulgarity and depravity.
With what be one of the best final shots of any film I’ve seen so far this year and a menagerie of great performances amidst a cesspool of grotesque debauchery, Cheap Thrills blurs that fine line of what is cheap and what is of true substance when it comes to violent entertainment.
By Chris Elena
Director: E.L Katz
Writer(s): David Chirchirillo, Trent Haaga
Starring: Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton, David Koechner, Amanda Fuller
Runtime: 91 minutes