Cheap Thrills is hands down the craziest film I’ve seen this year, it’s also one of the darkest and bizarre films I’ve seen; a pseudo-commentary on societies behaviour when it comes to money; friendships and the degrading situations people are willing to put themselves in and let me tell you now, there’s no resolution. Which is why you’ll probably leave the cinema not knowing how to feel, but knowing that you’ll need to watch or do something else to get over it.
The dark comedy lures audiences into a false sense of movie conventions following the mundane life of Craig (Pat Healy). A first time father, living in a tiny below average apartment, with his wife and young child working a job that has nothing to do with the promising writers career he expected at 29. Determined to provide for his young family, things go from bad to worse when he’s faced with an eviction notice and, later that same day, fired from his minimum wage job. It’s all he can do to not find a bridge and walk off it. Instead he heads to a dive bar, where he bumps into a childhood friend Vince (Ethan Embry). Vince hasn’t got life sorted out either, on many accounts he’s less richer, he’s been in jail and is now earning penance as a debt collector and there’s no family to show for it. The night seems harmless, our main concern is when Craig is going to go home and tell his wife that he’s jobless and that they’re about to be homeless. Enter Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton). A gregarious, loud-mouthed middle-aged man and a very young and passive, doe-eyed blonde beauty. They want to have a good time, they want Craig and Vince to join their party… they’re even willing to give them money for it… as long as they, work for it. So begins a series of competitions; the two friends work together to get the money Craig needs to pay off his eviction notice and put some extra change in Vince’s pockets – but what begins as harmless fun becomes darker, more humiliating, more extreme and worryingly dangerous as the stakes are raised and the ‘party’ moves to the mysterious couple’s swish apartment.
Craig and Vince begin to turn on each other, desperate for the money and (for reasons one could assume is male pride) for the praise. Vince, once the tough kid who protected Craig from school bullies, can’t stand to have Craig one-up him in the games – Craig’s got everything else in life, but money could really change Vince’s for the better. On the other hand for Craig, the more he gets the less troubles he has to face when he returns home. This is war. But the thing is, you don’t care enough about either to warrant the twisted ending.
If you were fortunate to miss Movie 43 when it came out, then Cheap Thrills is like an amalgamation of some of those movies bordering on the absurd and cringe worthy, with a bit of Tarantino brazenness and Todd Phillips slick style. Healy nails the role of Craig, well. Never pathetic enough to be a victim, always raising the bar in the game stakes because he really wants to prove to himself, and Vince, that he can succeed at something. Embry is excellent as his laddish old friend Vince; a tough desperate loser in life. What could easily be flat 2D characters turn out to be idiotic but intriguing individuals. The showmanship and oddities are strongest with David Koechner’s Colin and Sara Paxton’s Violet as the baiting couple with questionable amounts of disposable cash. Koechner takes on an affable and familiar role we’re used to seeing him in such buddy comedies such as Anchorman, but as the film goes on his happy-go-lucky façade falls and he takes on a Pacino-esque Devils Advocate presence exposing him for the sinister, masochistic and plain crazy human being he is. His young wife is even more eerie, perhaps because she is a pristine woman so displaced in such a horrific and ridiculous setting, or because she passively snaps images of the night on her phone, continuously placing a screen between herself and the cruelty she’s encouraging… immune to the violence and never knowing where to draw the line.
E.L. Katz’s début dark comedy does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s tactless, grim and thrilling at the expense of eliciting collective gasps and expressions of incredulity from the audience. Any guidance is advised, when watching this film because you will leave it not knowing what to feel or what you even really watched.
Cheap Thrills is out in UK cinemas today, Friday 6th June. Distributed by Koch Media.
Images courtesy of Koch Media.
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