FILM REVIEW: Cheap Thrills (2013)

Looking for something to rent at your local RedBox? Matt recommends a film called Cheap Thrills, which is now available everywhere. Let's delve into Matt's review...shall we?

What would you do for financial security? That’s what the excellent new film by E.L. Katz, Cheap Thrills, aims to ask the audience. It’s not a new question; directors have asked this or caused you to contemplate these scenarios throughout all of cinematic history. From the Noir classic The Killing  to modern-day gangster classics like Goodfellas  and Scarface, all the way to last year’s horror film Would You Rather; this question has repeatedly come up. Would you beat someone to a bloody pulp if they wronged you, would you steal from someone if you needed it, would you kill for the right amount of money?

Craig (Pat Healy, The Innkeepers), a new father and husband, gives his last twenty dollar bill to his wife for gas, walks outside to find an eviction notice on his front door that states legal action will be taken if he doesn’t come up with $4,500 and he finds out this the auto shop that he works at is “downsizing”, meaning that this will be his last day of employ; He’s having a very shitty day. Instead of telling his wife everything that’s going on, he says he’s going to grab a beer with the guys. He’s really going to a bar alone. It is here that he runs into his old high school buddy, Vince (the almost unrecognizable 90’s star Ethan Embry; Can’t Hardly Wait, Empire Records). Vince was always Craig’s protector, but also dabbled in activities that wind most people in jail or probation. The two haven’t seen each other in five years so, with some goading, Vince convinces Craig to have a few drinks with him. The two eventually join a couple in the corner who wants to buy the pair a few of shots in celebration; Colin (David Koechner, Anchorman) and his young wife Violet (Sara Paxton, The Last House on the Left, The Innkeepers) are celebrating Violet’s birthday.

 As the night progresses, the extremely wealthy Colin begin challenging the guys to perform tasks for money. It starts off innocently enough: first person to take this shot gets Fifty bucks; whoever can get that girl to slap you gets Two Hundred bucks. When the group is kicked out of a strip club for slapping a girl’s ass, the group comes back to Colin’s house where he says that there’s Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand dollars in his safe for them if the duo will continue to perform challenges. The challenges become more insane, but as the insanity, violence and blood rise – so does the payoff.

The film doesn't add any horror elements until well into the third act, but up to that point it’s pretty damn funny watching these two guys push themselves further and further. And, I’ll be honest, even when the horror stuff started it was kind of hard not to laugh even then. Some of it is legitimately squirm-inducing, but most of it is soft-core horror. There aren't any Cannibal Holocaust  moments or even any Irreversible  beating scenes. I think it would fit more aptly the black comedy section. I think some of the horror lies beneath the surface, though – in their motive. We never find out why this couple is making the duo go through all of this. It’s presumably just because money has bought them everything they've ever wanted, but they’re still hungry for power. They’re still hungry for the ability to control people. In this sense I was reminded of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games  and Bryan Bertino's The Strangers, two films that are both unsettling in their own right and show how callous people are and can be. For some people, socializing will never be enough, group dates will never be enough, cocktail hour will never be enough, and a bowling league will never be enough. Some people will always need to push the envelope and need to inflict pain on others.

In the end, the film is very well acted, the pace is perfect, the laughs are rampant, the gore – while mainly off-screen – is believable and it makes you think. Most of all, though, the film is never boring and that’s something not many films can proclaim these days. So, what would I do? I’m fairly broke right this second, so I think I’d actually stick around a good while if I was presented with this scenario. Who needs their pinky, right? Cheap Thrills  is now available on VOD, DVD/Blu-Ray and at your local Redbox kiosk.

*Note: while this film is hard to categorize as “horror”, it certainly contains some situations that would be pretty horrifying and the horror community at large is including it in the genre so I felt it was worth a review.

Matt, Signing Out