(Cheap Thrills also opens in select cities today. — DR)
Cheap Thrills is one of those movies you don’t want to say too much about, because you don’t want to give anything away, in part because you wouldn’t want to spoil it, and in part because there’s not a lot to give away. E.L. Katz’s debut feature takes an incredibly simple premises, and turns it into black comedy gold. It’s a quick, dirty, and depraved 87 minutes, and it is f*cked up to the point of exhilaration.
The beautifully simple premise is this: Craig (Pat Healy), a once aspiring writer with a wife and a newborn son, is facing eviction. On top of that, he just got fired from his job as a mechanic. He goes out for drinks and runs into Vince (Ethan Embry), a buddy from high school, who is a loserish fella whose job it is to beat people up who don’t pay their gambling debts. The two start drinking and catching up, and end up meeting a couple in a bar, Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton).
It’s Violet’s birthday, and Colin wants to make it memorable. He’s filthy rich, and so he orchestrates an accelerating series of dares with which Craig and Vince participate for money. It starts out slow: $50 to whoever can drink the first shot of tequila, $200 to whomever can slap a stripper’s ass, or $300 for punching a bouncer. With a $250,000 budget, however, the dares get increasingly f*cked up and at some point become as much about the money as the psychological warfare between a nerdy guy with a family and his old friend, who used to protect him from bullies.
That’s all that needs to be said about the plot of Cheap Thrills, except to say that it gets very dark, but never really loses its sense of fun thanks in large part to Koechner, who would be capable of bringing levity to a Michael Haneke film. The performances all around are suitably strong for the roles, although Ethan Embry provides something of a stand-out performance if only because I had no f**king clue it was Ethan Embry until 25 minutes into the film, even though I knew Ethan Embry was in the film when I sat down to watch it.
Let’s just say that the beard and flannel work for him.
Cheap Thrills is an appropriate title for the film, and I don’t mean that in an insulting way. It’s effeciently paced, wicked, and bloody f*cking enjoyable, ending with something of an fist-pumping, iconic fuck-yeah! shot sure to make Cheap Thrills an indie cult classic. It’s now streaming in all the usual places (iTunes, VOD, On Demand) and I believe it also has a limited theater run, and you’re going to want to get in on this early because it’s almost certain to be the kind of movie that people are going to be raving about on their Facebook feeds for the next several months.