Directed by E.L. Katz
Written by David Chirchirillo & Trent Haaga
If you are looking for a dirty, twisted, disgusting little dark comedy, than go out and see E.L. Katz's Cheap Thrills. This film is not for the weak at heart, or stomach. Pushing desperate individuals to the breaking point and beyond, while having something to say about the nature of greed and choice. The film is what it is. It makes you feel dirty watching it and sometimes you will laugh, and wonder if you should be laughing. There is a lot of mental and physical suffering throughout. Cheap Thrills is a decent film and I came away liking it, but even through all the reluctant laughs, it is a difficult and disgusting film to sit through. It pushes and challenges the audience that is for sure.
Cheap Thrills begins with the down-on-his-luck Craig (Pat Healy). He is married, with a fifteen month-old baby at home. He is facing eviction from their apartment and is recently unemployed. He is in the dumps. He goes out for a drink and catches up with an old friend Vince (Ethan Embry), who he has not seen in about five years. They get offered to share some drinks with a married couple, Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton), who are out celebrating Violet's birthday. A series of mindless bets ensue, with Colin and Violet throwing money away like it is nothing. A shot, a slap, a punch. Nothing is off base, and that is just the mildness of what goes on in this film.
I mean, if you were in this situation would you do whatever it takes to get some fast cash to support your family. You have just lost your job and are facing the terrifying prospect of not having a roof over your head with a little baby to take care of. Craig is so reluctant throughout, but knows this is one of those once in a lifetime moments where he can make some fast money. So, would you do it? Would you put all, or any, of your morals on the back burner to please these two sociopaths and make some fast money. Yes, Violet and Colin are definitely bonkers, but maintain a level of calmness throughout. This film really asks these questions that would be horrifying to be faced with in these situations. It is scary as hell.
Eventually, Craig and Vince end up at the exceptional home of the married couple. Elevated madness begins and it is non-stop until the end of this film. It gets diabolical, gruesome and thoroughly intense. You are cringing and laughing at some of the more disgusting shit I have seen on screen in a while. I do not want to give any of it away because it is a lot more exciting going into a film like this not knowing some of the antics that will occur. But, because of the level of debauchery and how I regretted laughing at some of the disgust that ensues, he does diminish the appreciation of the film. That is not say it is bad, cause it most certainly is not, but it kind of makes me think it was "how disgusting can we be," regardless whether it means anything. Maybe it does not have to, but it is rather gross what these people request and do. The depths people will go to when pressured.
Katz really dives in to the degradation of greed and what propels a rather innocent man to do disgusting things for wealth. The question is still how far would you go. Anyone with respect and love would do whatever it takes to support their family. Craig has failed at work and his family is struggling financially. He eventually starts to see the green he begins winning and does not know when to stop. Trust me, he has an arch at the end of the film that is pretty badass. Also, the fact you have these two wealthy individuals just throwing money away in the most disgusting ways for their pure enjoyment is rather horrible. What the hell? There is something seriously messed up with these two, but we never get any back story at all. Crazy world and a crazy night.
For the all the mainly disturbing faults, this film has a great look to it and is edited together quite nicely. There is never a dull moment that is for sure. The script is sharp from David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga. The acting is great as well, with all four of the main actors giving great work. Healy is fantastic as the sad sack Craig who finds courage in the oddest of situations. Healy is really great here and goes through one hell of an emotional roller coaster. Embry also delivers a really layered, wonderful performance as the somewhat sleazy Vince. Maybe the best work he has ever delivered. Balls out and full of energy. Paxton is good too, but does not say much. A lot of photos and mellowed words. Koechner is of course brilliant. Goofy, but solid. I just wish we would have known a little more about him, but the focus of him being rich with three houses in Los Angeles and just wanting to show Violet a good time was enough.
Cheap Thrills is one devilish, crazy comedy. It is definitely a challenge to the audience and it felt like an endurance test, but full of selfish enjoyment. This is a crazy film and one that forcefully places its characters in hardcore, gruesome situations. It is not perfect, but that is some of what works. I have to say that the banality of what transpires lessens some of the impact just because it is so disgusting. It still works and something worth checking out.
Photo credit by IMDB.