Movie Review: Cheap Thrills [2013]

Cheap Thrills [2013]

Cheap Thrills [2013]
Director: E.L. Katz
Writers: David Chirchirillo, Trent Haaga
Genre: Comedy/Thriller
Starring: Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton, David Koechner
Running Time: 88 minutes

Craig (Pat Healy) is having a really bad day. In a matter of just a few hours, he receives an eviction notice and loses his job as an auto mechanic. Now unemployed and staring at the very real possiblity of his family (a wife and infant child) being homeless, Craig attempts to find solace at a nearby dive bar. While drinking alone, he is approached by Vince (Ethan Embry), an old buddy he hasn’t seen in five years. Right away it’s clear the two have little in common anymore. Craig is a family man, no longer the skater and partier he once was, whereas Vince still has the same low ambitions he has had since high school.

Their awkward small talk is interrupted by a loud and boisterous man at a nearby table. This is their introduction to Colin (David Koechner) and his trophy wife Violet (Sara Paxton), a rich couple who are spending an absurd amount of money without a care in the world. Seemingly bored and looking for action, Colin starts proposing a series of dares to his new acquaintances in return for increasing amounts of money. The propositions start off innocently enough — $50 for whoever does a shot of tequila first, $200 for the first person to get slapped by a woman at the bar — but as the night progresses, the stakes get higher.

Cheap Thrills [2014]

Though darkly comedic to the end, the film really kicks into gear when the group of four go back to Violet’s house. The dares get increasingly vulgar (think bodily fluids) and violent (think blood, lots and lots of it). To get into specifics would be a great disservice to the film — seriously, do not even watch the trailer — as half the fun is seeing just how far these two men will go to make some quick cash.

Craig and Vince are the perfect targets for such shenanigans. Craig is, of course, looking to gain some income to keep his family afloat for the next several months, while Vince sees this as a way to make his life even easier. Though the two of them had been friends long ago, their relationship is now flimsy enough that neither is afraid to take drastic measures to make sure they get the cash.

Cheap Thrills [2013]

Pat Healy, the great indie character actor, and Ethan Embry both do so well in this. Healy, in particular, is frightening in his progression from everyman to a testosterone-fueled competitor. Sara Paxton excels as an emotionally vacant wife, but it is David Koechner who steals the show. Best known for his work in comedies like Anchorman, Koechner is much different here with his nice guy persona. There is a certain tension every time he is on the screen simply because he is so unpredictable. The fact that he is so generally friendly at first makes it so jarring — and fearsome — when he pushes his contestants further and further into increasingly volatile dares.

Although it may sound like a simple thriller, there’s more to Cheap Thrills than meets the eye. The film can be looked at as a commentary on the YouTube generation, a group that watches other people get hurt for their own amusement (it seems every day there’s a new fight video that goes viral). In fact, Violet is documenting the entire evening by taking pictures every time the guys do something senseless. There’s also an allegory of the rich controlling the poor (i.e. the 1% versus the 99%). But regardless of how you want to look at the film, it’s not something you will be forgetting anytime soon. Don’t be surprised if this is considered a cult classic in the next several years.


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