I’m a pretty terrible film reviewer guy, aren’t I? In addition to having terrible views and opinions, I also fall behind on what’s cool and hip with the “kids” these days. While getting prepped for SXSW this year, I was so focused on what horror movies I was going to check out, I didn’t really find out about Cheap Thrills until a few days before I was headed down there. This was especially strange, considering it reunited the two stars of one of my favorite films of last year, The Innkeepers, Pat Healy and Sara Paxton. Knowing next to nothing about the film, it wasn’t really a priority for me to check out, especially since it kept conflicting with other films I was trying to check out. Don’t worry, I quickly learned from my mistakes by noticing how every single person who I follow on Twitter who had seen the movie would furiously tweet about how amazing the movie was. With all the positive buzz around the film and considering Pat Healy is my best friend, I figured I owed it to him to check it out. I’m very happy I did, as Cheap Thrills turned out to be one of the best films at the festival that delivered on laughs, violence, and possibly some career best performances from all cast members involved.
WE’RE JUST A BUNCH OF FRIENDS HAVING FUN! WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?!
After receiving a notice of eviction for his family and getting fired from his job in the same day, Craig (Healy) heads to a bar to figure out how he’ll provide for his family. While there, he bumps into childhood friend Vince (Ethan Embry), whose job it is to make sure people pay back any debts owed. Vince tries to console Craig and offer support to his situation, but with Vince not making that much money anyway, there’s only so much help he can provide. Also in this dive bar are Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Paxton), a married couple celebrating Violet’s birthday. Clearly having tons of money to burn, and wanting to celebrate Violet’s birthday in a nontraditional way, Colin starts a series of bets with Craig and Vince. Things start out simple with things like whoever can do a shot first gets $50 or whoever can convince a stranger to slap them, escalating to slapping a stripper’s ass or punching a bouncer. Once Craig and Vince are back at Colin and Violet’s house, it’s made clear just how much money these two have, as well as just how much money Craig and Violet are willing to give away. With the amount of money at stake, the things Craig and Vince must do quickly escalate to involve bodily fluids and causing harm to themselves, each other, and even neighborhood pets. Tensions between Vince and Craig heighten with each bet, revealing things about their friendship that they’ve been holding onto since they were children, and the film ultimately poses the question of how far you would be willing to go to provide for you and your family in this harsh economic climate.
Above all else, Cheap Thrills gives you yet another reason to never trust anyone wearing a fedora.
Boy oh boy, where do I even begin with this movie? It’s really hard to pick a starting point when it comes to reviewing this movie when every aspect of it was done so well. Pat Healy has been on fire (figuratively, not literally) with a hat trick of fantastic performances in The Innkeepers, Compliance, and now Cheap Thrills. From a goofy hopeless romantic to a sadistic living room tormentor and now a guy who has so few options that even the most sane man would consider doing anything to provide for his family, he’s shown to be incredibly entertaining, no matter what the role, and I can tell that he’s only just getting started. For those of you familiar with Ethan Embry from Empire Records, forget everything you remember about Ethan Embry in Empire Records. Rather than the quirky, lovable characters he played in the late 90’s, Embry makes Vince a scummy piece of shit who is just as charismatic and fun to watch as those characters from 15 years ago. The always funny comedic acting of David Koechner is prevalent throughout the film, but we also get a glimpse at a much darker side that he can play, something very refreshing from an actor you only really see in a supporting role. The last time we saw Sara Paxton on-screen with Healy, she was the adorable, quirky girl trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. Not even a year later, we get to see Paxton as the detached, privileged, and mildly sadistic trophy wife who’s attached to her cell phone. For how entertaining this film it, it’s really a credit to the cast just how subtle their performances are when they’re in situations where it could have been easy to overact, almost to the point that you could believe that these things could be taking place in the house next door.
Interesting bit of trivia is that Sara Paxton is actually texting ME in this photo. Go ahead, you can add that to IMDb. I dare you. DO IT. PLEASE.
Even though this film isn’t necessarily a horror film, it might be one of the most terrifying films screened at SXSW because the subject matter is all too real. I recently saw Would You Rather, which took the similar concept of how far one would go for money, but made it far more theatrical, and ultimately less believable. The strengths of Cheap Thrills are the fact that the things being asked of Craig and Vince aren’t these ridiculous contraptions, but are grounded in some semblance of reality. You can’t help but see the things that Craig and Vince are engaging in and not only question if you would do them, but also be excited for how simple the things being asked of them are because you know that you’d happily engage in them. I’d say that the best sequence in the entire movie involves Koechner’s character asking them if they were willing to mutilate themselves for a big lump of money, and in most films, this would end up being a bartering sequence where the victim would keep asking for more and more money. Instead, with Vince and Craig both desperate for the money, the price their asking gets lower and lower to show how desperate they are for money and it really showcases the chemistry between these three actors and demonstrates how little these characters value their own well-being. A lot of the reviews I’ve been seeing about Cheap Thrills mention how this is such a great debut for director E.L. Katz, but what he’s able to pull together in his debut is more entertaining, sicker, funnier, but full of more heart than what most directors will accomplish in their careers. The contributions of everyone involved in this film makes me both excited and depressed. On the one hand, I know that everyone in the film is going to get a lot of exposure and these people who have had careers for the past 20 years will now be getting even better opportunities, but I get sad thinking about how I can’t see Cheap Thrills for the first time again. Oh yeah, they also snuck in Agent Orange’s “Bloodstains” into the film, which will always be a way to tug on the heartstrings. Nice work, everyone. Also, if there’s a sequel, I’m willing to do a lot of bodily harm for VERY little money.
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