I know Cheap Thrills came out last year, and normally, I like to actually give people the time to see a movie before I dare ask them why haven’t they seen it. But Cheap Thrills was a bold enough ride that I want to bring as much attention to it as I can while it can still reap some of the benefits of that. Before I tell you about the film, let me ask you something. How far would you be willing to go once you hit rock bottom to ensure you didn’t stay there? Would you be willing to embarrass yourself? Hurt yourself? Maybe hurt someone else? This is the question that Cheap Thrills so boldly asks of its viewers. It is uncomfortable, hilarious, disturbing, and unforgettable. Kinda like life. Actually, a little TOO MUCH like my life right now, truth be told.
It all starts out simple enough, but man does it spiral quickly.
The movie follows Craig (played with equal parts innocence and desperation by Pat Healy, Aka the “creepy phone guy” from Compliance), a man we are witnessing bottom out just as the movie begins. He loses his job and is on the verge being evicted with his wife and newborn child. Without any clue what to do, he does what most working class men would do in that situation. He goes to a bar to get drunk and forget that his life is falling apart before his eyes (and how that represents his failures as a man to him). It is at this very bar, a few drinks in, where everything is set to change for him. He is about to be given an opportunity to fix his predicament. But he will need to look deep in his soul first and figure out at what cost.
How does a man like that on the right land a girl like that on the left? Money really helps.
First off, he runs into an old friend, Vince (played by the ever-awesome Ethan Embry). They have some drinks and do some catching up. Vince is a little better off than Craig, but understands his struggle well being a working class man himself. You can tell Craig knows he is f*cked, and you can feel Vince sympathizing with that. Hell, I think any of us watching can somewhat relate. We live in a world where it is very hard to make ends meet if you have not been born into wealth. Speaking of wealth, there are two people who are also at the bar and who over hear these two talking about their (financial) problems. The very sexy Violet (played by my new indie horror crush, Sara Paxton who is awesome in everything) and her man, Colin (played by the usually funny but often times discomforting David Koechner. Better know as Champ from the Anchorman series). These two buy Craig and Vince some high-end booze and begin pulling them into their sick little game.
I will show you the trailer now if you want. I suggest you skip it and just keep reading, but the choice to ruin the movie is up to you:
At the end of the day, it can be very difficult to say no to a beautiful woman.
It all starts out innocently enough. Seems Violet and Colin have some money they wouldn’t mind spending, but the money requires the two (struggling) men to do more and more extreme things for it. It starts out innocently enough with some mishaps they must cause at the bar. Begrudgingly, they accept, and the cycle starts. It culminates with them getting kicked out of the bar. At which point, The four go back to Colin’s place to continue to engage in various vices. Little do Vince and Craig know, they are just pawns in a game at this point, and slowly, the stakes are getting higher and higher.
This is where I will start stepping away from ruining anything else about this wonderfully layered (and at times, very violent and twisted movie) and mention what makes the movie work. I honestly believe you have to be struggling or have struggled at one point in your life with money and been up against the wall to truly appreciate just how good this movie is. Desperation brings out some very weird things in people, and often forces them to play hands they would never have played otherwise. Not sure if you have ever been there, but not knowing where you are gonna live or how you are going to eat or feed your family in the next week is sickening feeling. Though most people may watch this movie and think to themselves as the “games” progress that there is no one who would do such things (especially for the sick enjoyment of a couple of rich sociopaths) but let me tell you, those people have never had to eat bologna for dinner for seven days a f*cking week. You consider some pretty f*cked up shit in that scenario. Cheap Thrills knows of that desperation, and reflects it back to us in a very ugly (but kind of honest) manner.
This woman could get me to do some Fear Factor levels of stupid shit. I sometimes use my little brain to think.
I also want to shout-out a few performances in the film. Actually, all of them. Sara Paxton is utterly bewitching as Violet. Considering she can go from shy girl to scary girl to a girl like Violet just shows her range. David Koechner is usually funny with a bit of a disturbing tinge, but he takes that to new levels here. I walked away respecting him as an actor a lot more than I had before the film. Ethan Embry is great (as he often is), but the performance from Pat Healy is just so layered, it is the stand out of the film. You can feel how hesitant he is at moments, and how eager he is at others. You can see that he knows he is falling down an inescapable hole, but has no choice. The final fifteen minutes of this movie will leave you in awe. Especially that final shot. This movie ends on a brilliant moment, that is all I will say. Leaves you hungry for what’s next, though we will never know what that is.
This is the directorial debut of E.L Katz, and judging from his history as a respected horror journalist (HOLLA) and his work on some other smaller projects before this that made a huge impression, this guy is one-to-watch. I expect great (and very twisted) things from this guy’s mind over the forthcoming years. Cheap Thrills is human desperation put under the microscope by a couple of sociopaths who have nothing better to do than play games with humans as the cards. It is fun, funny, and f*cked up. So why haven’t you seen it? You love that shit.