This very dark comedy focuses on Craig (Pat Healy), an aspiring writer with a wife and 15 month old son, who suddenly finds himself in major financial trouble when he receives an eviction notice the same day he is laid off from his day job as a mechanic. While drinking his sorrows away in a bar, Craig is reunited with Vince (Ethan Embry), an old friend he hasn’t seen in five years. While in the bar, the two of them come across Colin (David Koechner) and his wife Violet (Sara Paxton), who is out celebrating her birthday.
Colin and Violet love placing outrageous bets and quickly get Craig and Vince in on the game by asking them to do simple tasks, such as slapping strippers and getting into fights with bouncers. The action quickly moves to Colin and Violet’s house, where Colin offers Craig and Vince up to $250,000 to continue playing the game. As the night continues, the stakes get bigger and so does the rivalry between Craig and Vince. When the night’s all over, the question of what these men will do for a whole lot of money will be answered.
Cheap Thrills is the directorial debut for E.L. Katz, who has previously been known as a screenwriter for a number of independent horror films, including some of the early films for director Adam Wingard (You’re Next). The film also reunites Pat Healy with Sara Paxton, who had great chemistry together in Ti West’s The Innkeepers. That said, despite a great cast, including a delightfully friendly/sleazy performance by David Koechner, I couldn’t really get behind the film, which quickly goes downhill as the tasks become more tasteless.
The overall message of Cheap Thrills is that people are willing to do terrible acts when there’s a whole lot of money involved. This is a plot that has been done in countless other films, often in much more enjoyable ways. The film is blatantly trying to shock the audience with the extremes that these people will go, in order to get a whole lot of money. This is particularly the case for Craig, who is so desperate for money that he is willing to do just about anything. This creates a rift in his relationship with Vince, who gets increasingly jealous, and eventually violent, when Craig begins winning more of the the tasks.
I can say that that I was enjoying Cheap Thrills pretty fine until the film crossed the line with an act that was so tasteless, and cruel, that I seriously considered walking out of the film. There are just some things that I never want to see in a film and Cheap Thrills shows one of them. What’s worse, is that this act comes after I was lulled into a false sense of security when, earlier in the film, Colin wouldn’t allow a similar act to be performed. While this act is obviously meant to shock the audience, it outright angered me. I was so outraged that the film would stoop so low, that I was taken completely out of the film and I wasn’t able to properly enjoy the rest of it.
I also have to say that, even though the film features a reunion of Pat Healy and Sara Paxton, their chemistry in this film is no where close to how they interacted in The Innkeepers. In fact, Paxton is playing a much different character, who spends most of the film paying more attention to her cellphone than the action around her and stops only to take the occasional photo. All the events in the film are supposed to be Colin’s way of making sure Violet has a good time on her birthday. However, she is probably such a sociopath, who enjoys telling stories of the sounds people make when their bones break, that she is barely interested in the “tame” activities Craig and Vince are performing. In fact, come to think of it, Paxton’s performance in the film is probably one of the few aspects of the film I actually liked.
Because of the tasteless places that it goes, I cannot give a recommendation to Cheap Thrills. However, I am not going to complete write-off the film either. After thinking it over, I understand that my problems with the film are more personal than anything else and I am sure there are some people, who completely don’t mind the tasteless acts seen in the film. As such, instead of saying that I don’t like the film, I am merely going to say I just don’t care much about it.5 | INDIFFERENT