Cheap Thrills catches up with Craig (Pat Healy), a victim of the recession, on the worst days of his life. He wakes up to an eviction notice and when he tries to ask his boss for a raise, he ends up getting laid off instead. Craig heads to his local bar to drink his sorrows away and runs in to an old friend named Vince (Ethan Embry). The pair soon meets up with an eccentric millionaire and his hot young wife played by David Koechner and Sara Paxton. The couple begins throwing money at Craig and Vince in exchange for completing seemingly innocuous tasks but they soon raise the ante and start asking the duo to do things that may have grave consequences.
The film has a dark wit about it. The comedy is not so much in your face as it is subtle and implied. First time feature film director and former Fangoria scribe E.L. Katz really shines in his directorial debut. He perfectly sets the tone for this black comedy and leaves the viewer anxious to see what Katz will lend his talent to next.
Katz definitely had great source material to work with. The script, by David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga is brilliant. It isn’t unlike anything we’ve seen before but it explores familiar territory from a clever and unique angle. Combining a great script with Katz’s keen directorial eye results in a great finished product.
Cheap Thrills is a film that makes use of very few locales and puts shot a great deal of emphasis on its characters. In that type of film, it’s especially important that all of the performers be at the top of their game and in Cheap Thrills, they are. The film is brilliantly cast: All of the leads are comfortable in their roles and more than convincingly bring their characters to life. Pat Healy really shines as Craig. A lot of the film rests on his shoulders but he makes it look completely effortless. Ethan Embry plays slightly against type; his character is a bit of a jackass but he pulls the role off seamlessly. David Koechner and Sara Paxton seem like two people that one would never dream of casting opposite one another romantically but they work together perfectly. It’s easy to see why Drafthouse Films was so eager to snatch this picture up at SXSW.
Cheap Thrills is more of a comedy than a horror film but it definitely has horror elements built in. It’s probably best described as a dark, horror-infused comedy. It doesn’t rely on excessive gore to tell its story but it doesn’t shy away from a bit of violence when it is called for, either.
My main complaint with Cheap Thrills is that some of the bathroom humor is a little bit cruder than necessary. There is a scene where Craig and Vince pay retribution to the eccentric couple’s next-door neighbor that was a bit lowbrow. But beyond that, the film primarily avoids veering in to unnecessary excess.
The film is smartly paced. E.L. Katz makes effective use of musical cues and the editing process to keep the viewer on their toes. One quickly develops a sense of unease upon diving in to the film and that doesn’t let up until the final scene is over. Craig is easy to identify with and even when he is faced with some unimaginable choices, the viewer wants to see him triumph.
Cheap Thrills has a delightfully twisted ending. It serves as a perfect conclusion to a totally twisted yet highly enjoyable film. Just like the rest of the picture, the final scene emits a dark sense of humor.
Cheap Thrills is now available via select VOD outlets. It’s definitely worth giving a look. The onscreen dynamic between cast members, the film’s dark sense of humor, and the smart pacing all make this flick a must see.