By Dan Krovich
April 17, 2014
VOD Pick of the Week
Craig (Pat Healy) is down on his luck. He apparently at one point at least sniffed some minor success as a writer, but that did not pan out. Now he is a new father behind on his rent and working a low paying job. Things get even worse when he even loses that job and he finds himself in a bar trying to gather himself before having to go home to his wife with more disappointing news of failure. At the bar he runs into Vince (Ethan Embry) an acquaintance he hasn’t seen in over five years.
It’s no surprise that Craig and Vince have drifted apart. In fact, it’s more of a surprise that they were ever friends at all. Craig is a mild mannered straight arrow, while Vince is outspoken and makes his money collecting debts for unsavory characters. The evening takes a turn when they run into Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton), a married couple who are out for an evening for Violet’s birthday. They begin with a couple harmless bar bets (like who can down a shot of tequila first) where Colin pays the winner cash. The contests escalate until after an encounter with a strip club bouncer they wind up at Colin and Violet’s house.
There the game ramps up as the contests have higher and higher stakes and bigger and bigger cash rewards. Vince with his background adapts quickly to the game, but once his desperation to provide for his family kicks in, Craig becomes a formidable competitor.
Cheap Thrills, at least to an extent, can be seen as a response to the recent economic climate. With many having to face financial hardships, they have probably had to do things they never thought they would have to consider just to get by. Certainly not things as drastic as depicted in the film, but people certainly have had to get creative. There is also an element of the Occupy protests against the “one percent.” Colin and Violet have more money than they know what to do with, and there is no indication that they had to do much of anything to earn it, while Craig and Vince have to degrade themselves at their expense just to get the crumbs they need to live.
David Koechner may very well be a very nice man in real life but he certainly has mastered playing the role of the slimy creep. His Colin isn’t so much evil as amoral. He’s just a bored man looking for entertainment and to give his attractive wife what she wants. Pat Healy also does a good job at conveying something simmering under Craig’s doormat personality that becomes ruthlessness that is brought out by desperation.
Cheap Thrills has won multiple awards at film festivals, usually at genre festivals or in the “midnight” section. It is classified as a comedy-thriller, but whether it is more comedy or more thriller is likely going to hinge on how dark you like your comedy. It is certainly an auspicious debut for director E. L. Katz who is certain to be tapped for mainstream projects with a bit of an edge.
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