Some movies are funny. Some scary. Others are thrilling and filled with action. Then there’s the type of film that holds a mirror up to its audience and dares those watching to see themselves in the characters and in their actions. It asks the viewer “What would you do?”
How far would you go to provide for your family? What would you do to better your life? Would you debase yourself? Would you hurt someone? Would you kill? What would you do? These are the questions asked by the new horror/thriller starring Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, David Koechner, and Sara Paxton. And the answers are quite frankly shocking.
Healy is Craig, a husband and father with an eviction notice on his door. He’s killing time in a bar to avoid going home to tell his wife he just got fired. There, he runs into Ethan Embry’s Vince. They’re old friends who haven’t seen each other in a while. Vince is working as an enforcer, an arm-breaker collecting debts. He’s good at it. But he’s not exactly happy with his station in life.
While they are drinking away their woes as men are wont to do, they meet an odd couple, husband and wife, played by Koechner and Paxton. Colin and Violet are crazy rich. It’s her birthday and he wants to show her a good time. To that end he has provided cocaine and an open tab to Vince and Craig, companions purchased for what is sure to be a fun and eventful evening. Some spur of the moment bar bets cause cash to be exchanged as Vince downs a shot faster than his friend and slaps a waitress’ butt. Craig wants in on the cash so when Colin suggests, with the promise of bigger prizes on the line, that they move the party to their mansion in the hills, he’s more than willing and able.
And that…is when the shit hits the fan. The stakes rise. The cash prizes become life changing. Blood is spilled.
The plot is nothing that is especially original. There are elements here that feel like they could have been lifted out of the cautionary tales that were often told in The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. But it is very well executed. The script is darkly comic and sharp as a razor. Most importantly, this is an actor’s showcase. The four main characters occupy about 98% of the film’s running time so they’re going to have to carry the film. They are more than up to the task.
Koechner is simultaneously smarmy and ingratiating. His Colin is disturbingly pragmatic about the whole sordid affair. He’s got cash to burn and willing fools at the ready who are prepared to do anything for it. Embry brings a frightening physicality to his performance. The man is far removed from his teen comedy days. There’s no evidence of Rusty Griswold here. Healey is perfect as the hard luck working class schlub. His dreams of being a writer have long since faded. He’s living the American Dream and it’s a fucking nightmare.
But the shining star here, in a night sky filled with them, is Sara Paxton in the quietest role of the film. Violet is passive and bored during most of the proceedings barely taking the time to look up from her cell phone as the willing dupes jump through hoops to earn their pay. But as the dares become darker, she grows more curious, her eyes betraying a perverse, almost sexual, interest in what’s happening. Every twisted thing that being done is for her benefit, her pleasure. And she loves it.
The climax feels inevitable. To the victor goes the spoils. And as he stands, surrounded by his winnings, his body a twisted wreck, the film ends leaving the audience with a final image that is impossible to shake.
Cheap Thrills received a VERY limited theatrical release playing only in Austin & Los Angeles. It’s expanding into about 20 cities in the next week so it might just be popping up somewhere near you. If you get the chance, catch it in a theater. But it’s pretty much available on every Video On Demand format there is. If it’s not available from your local cable provider, try iTunes or Amazon Instant.
See it now. See it in a week. See it when Drafthouse Films releases the Blu-ray or DVD in a few weeks.
Just see it.