Cheap Thrills – the movie so nice, I reviewed it twice! And by nice, I mean “absolutely bonkers, brutally honest, and disgustingly entertaining,” of course. You didn’t actually think a dark thriller sporting Troma roots would be missing a wicked sense of humor, completed by aided visual extravagance – did you? Scribes Trent Haaga and David Chirchirillo attack current economical troubles and societal selfishness by playing a mindless bar game that turns into a gruesome fight for normalcy – not millions, just enough to squeak by. Director E.L. Katz values human lives with measly dollar amounts, but our characters become fixated on surviving the night with handfuls of cash – a beautiful character breakdown that darkly questions our own moral judgement. Can one seriously monetarily evaluate a human life?
Pat Healy and Ethan Embry play Craig and Vince, two old friends who reunite by chance at a local dive bar. Craig, recently fired and fearing for his family, decides drowning his sorrows with Vince might help the day’s unfortunate events, and this is when they meet Colin (David Koechner) – a night altering event. Introducing his wife Violet (Sara Paxton), Colin expresses interest in playing a game with the two – he names a dare, a price, and the first person to complete said task wins the money. Starting with tequila shots and getting punched, the night escalates as Craig and Vince end up back in Colin’s lavish home – at the couple’s mercy. Can these two friends prevent dollar signs from coming between them, or will Colin’s increasingly vicious game get the better of them?
Cheap Thrills is nothing short of a darkly comedic masterpiece, finding ways to not only interject societal commentary into absolute horror buffoonery, but justifiable laughs that perfectly balance themes of backstabbing friendship, self-importance, and unfortunate sacrifice. What better way to depict class differentiation than by having the wealthy betting on struggling middle class schlubs? All our lives we’re taught that money can’t buy happiness, yet here we witness the rich pitting dollar signs against humanity, watching an ex-con compete against a down-on-his-luck family man. Colin and Violet’s sick, twisted game ends on a perfectly heartbreaking note when we realize what their depraved actions actually mean to their icy hearts, and you’ll have the same reaction when you hear one seemingly inconsequential line muttered – a cheap thrill about it all.
Preventing Cheap Thrills from becoming a generic indie horror flick are DYNAMITE turns by all actors involved, especially Koechner and Healy. Between Colin’s brash mood swings and dedication to the game, Koechner has never been better mixing his hilarious brand of comedy with some truly horrific moments of acknowledged insanity, but Healy’s unmatched desperation brings Colin’s actions to unthinkable places – because Colin’s coercing actually works. Who am I kidding, Embry shines just as brightly as a burly ex-convict – a change of pace from his geekier teen roles – and brings an intensity that challenges Healy’s mousier blue-collar loser. And Sara Paxton? Violet watches without sympathy, showing disinterest at times in the men’s penis measuring competition (metaphor), interjecting when bored to psychologically manipulate Healy’s weaker, more influential mind. Ugh, these characters play SO DAMN WELL together, leaving a bloody, hilarious mess behind – and maybe an appendage or two.
I could gush for hours, but since I already commented on Cheap Thrills theatrically, head over to that review for a more in-depth dissection of Katz’s brilliant debauchery! All in all, here’s my best zinger on Cheap Thrills:
Cheap Thrills is a darkly comedic cult winner blending Troma-inspired wackiness with pure, devious genre entertainment – just don’t try any of these dares at home.
So, how does the Blu-Ray transfer capture Colin and Violet’s torturous event? You’ll be watching defecating men, bleeding limbs, desperate dive bars, and about the worst supper scene ever recorded all through crystal presentation. Rocking my 1080p HD system with DTS-MA 5.1, I only planned on catching up on special features for this review, but one doesn’t put Cheap Thrills in a Blu-Ray player and not watch the whole damn movie. What a glorious decision that was, too, because my only previous viewing was a screening link – this beefed up Blu-Ray surely packs quite the wallop as far as dark comedies go.
There aren’t many special features, but the ones that exist rival Cheap Thrills‘ ballsiness in every sense of the word. For an appetizer, check out the 2013 Fantastic Fest footage where the cast and crew issued dares to the screening audience. Witness Cheek Thrills (a tattoo based dare), Weenie Martini (let your mind wander), The Cricket Lickit (kudos to the victor), and The Red Ball-oon (a taste of male nudity for female viewers) – a carnival game of epic proportions. After that, take a look at TJ Nordaker’s “Making Of” documentary that followed E.L. Katz’s insanely condensed shooting schedule and the hardships our crew faced – and how such a chaotic event ended up flooring genre audiences left and right.
Cheap Thrills goes places you don’t dare yourself – not even in your wildest, most perverted, um, fantasies? It poses questions you might regret answering, and does so with entirely too much enjoyment. E.L. Katz has created a dark comedy on steroids, heavy on social cues, but not overly preachy where our actor’s engrossing performances become lost in some wackadoodle personal agenda. Freakishly f#cked up and disturbingly entertaining, Cheap Thrills is a freakin’ insta-classic featuring ridiculous scenes of self-inflicted destruction that I won’t be forgetting any time soon.
What would you do for $50, $1,000, hell, $10,000 if you needed it bad enough?
While taking pleasure in pain might make us the sickest individuals of all, blame E.L. Katz for creating an instant classic genre movie that balances unexpected humor with a deeply emotional take on man's biggest folly.