Director E.L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills, from screenwriters David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga (Deadgirl, Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV), is a dark, dark comedy/thriller that asks the question: What’s the worst thing you would do for some quick cash? The answer, according to the filmmakers, is pretty much anything. The film is thought-provoking and will leave audiences divided into two distinct camps of either love-it or hate-it.
Craig (Pat Healy) is an auto mechanic with a newborn baby and a loving wife whose boss lays him off on the same day he gets an eviction noticed pasted to his apartment door. Depressed and afraid to go home to break the news to his wife, Craig stops at a bar to drown his sorrows. He’s more than a few drinks in when he’s approached by Ethan Embry’s Vince, an old high school pal he hasn’t spoken to in years. Embry plays Vince like that one friend you had in high school that always seemed too cool for you, yet he lets you tag along with the group anyway. This leaves the audience to wonder (through most of the film) if Vince is the good friend Pat remembers or is there something more sinister lurking below?
After another few rounds of drinks, the two old friends are approached by Colin, and it is at this point David Koechner begins the best performance of his career as the boisterous rich man willing to toss around any amount of money to keep his precious Violet (Sara Paxton) entertained on her birthday. Paxton is hilarious as the detached, bored, trophy wife constantly checking her cell phone and obsessively snapping pictures of the boys.
After a series of small dares escalate until someone ends up getting the snot beat out of them by a strip club bouncer, the impromptu party heads back to Colin and Violet’s house. This is where things get weird. Colin continues to offer the boys increasingly large amounts of money to engage in a series of sometimes dangerous, sometimes illegal, sometimes disgusting stunts. The film takes time to remind you of Craig’s desperation, but also that Vince might not be the nice guy he used to be. The two men’s natural competitive sides are heightened by the promise of riches, bringing the evening’s events to a harrowing conclusion.
While the heavy amounts of gore and the delight the filmmakers take in reveling in it might prevent this movie from reaching the widest audience possible, at it’s core the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. Katz is a capable director, placing the camera exactly where it needs to be in order to heighten the more horrific elements of the story, and keeping the pace of the film in check. Healy anchors the movie by giving the audience an on screen avatar to relate to. If you’ve ever been stuck in a desperate situation, you’ll immediately identify with Healy’s growing unease as he struggles to keep his moral compass in check, while also bringing home as much of the money as he can.
As mentioned, this movie won’t be for everyone – one old lady walked out of the screening I attended after a particularly gruesome act. That said, clearly, there is a sick sense of humor at play, even behind the most depraved acts portrayed on screen, and the movie is all the better for it. This could easily have turned into a dour, heavy-handed affair, but instead the audience is encouraged to laugh while it cringes, making this a fun, twisted trip to the movies. You can see for yourself when the movie is released on VOD in January followed by theatrical play in February. Although no set dates have been given by distributor Cinedigm.