Thursday, 27 March 2014

Cheap Thrills (2014)

Cheap Thrills (2013)
Director: E.L. Katz
Starring: Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton and David Koechner
Running Time: 88 min

I've wanted to see this for a while now, ever since I heard about it last year when it premed at SXSW film festival.  Although, I wasn't that crazy about Innkeepers, I thought Pat Healy and Sarah Paxton worked really well together and I was interested to see what David Koechner would bring to the table because this seems a lot darker than his usual fare.  So, with my fingers crossed I delved into some Cheap Thrills.

 Craig, played by Pat Healy (InnKeepers, Ghost World) has a lovely wife and child and he seems really content with his life at home.  However when he leaves for work, he is reminded by an eviction notice on the door that he is 4, 500 dollars behind in his payments, his once aspiring career as a writer has gone down the tubes and after a number of years spent in college and university, he is changing people's car oil.  On top of that to put a final nail in the coffin of his ambitions, at the end of his day at work, his boss tells him that their company is downsizing and he is being let go.  Bummer.
  Beaten and ego bruised, Craig calls his wife and lies to her, that he is going for drinks with a friend and winds up alone at a old local bar.  While there he is approached by an old friend from high school, Vince, played by Ethan Embry (Vacancy, The House Across The Street) and they catch up on the last five years.  Vince is impressed with how well things seemed to have turned out for Craig, a good job and wonderful family and he lets Craig know that his life hasn't turned out as well as he would liked it.  Vince seems to be doing some repo jobs on and off and lets Craig know that he's seen some shit that he wish he hadn't.  Feeling bad for lying to Vince, Craig comes clean and tells him about his money problems and Vince offers him, a couple hundred buck but Craig refuses and tells him that it wouldn't help that he's in too deep.  So the two decide to have another drink and Craig heads to the restroom.  When Craig returns from the bathroom, Vince calls him over to sit with some new friends, Colin, played by David Koechner (Anchorman, Piranha 3DD)  and Violet, played by Sarah Paxton (The Innkeepers, The Last House on the Left (2009)) and join them for a drink.  It's Violet' birthday and Colin is taking her out and nothing is too expensive for his lady.  Colin orders a bottle of the bars most expensive tequila and gives the waitress a large tip.  If you know what I mean.  Impressed, Vince and Craig thank them and offer toasts to the birthday girl.  While hangin with their new friends, Colin starts offering the guys money to do silly harmless things at the bar, like be the first to down their drink gets 50 bucks or 100 dollars if they can get a crackhead lady to slap them.  Vince seems to be able to accomplish many of the tasks that Colin is asking for and collecting some good cash for it, but Craig finally steps up when they are being chased from a bar by a bouncer and Colin offers him 500 dollars to punch the bouncer.  Which he does and then Craig wakes up battered and bloodied at Violet and Colin's home.
  Back at their home, the game starts to get out of hand but Craig and Vince really want to win the money.  As the night progresses the guys get more competitive and the things that Colin ask them to do go from silly to depraved.  How far will Craig go to save his family from ruin and is there any whim of Colin and Violets' that can't be bought?

I really enjoyed this movie, I like what first time director, E.L. Katz does with these characters and how he slowly tears apart the relationship and humanity of these two friends.  With each new task assigned to them and as the dollar amount the dollar amount increases, the two become wild animals trying to out do one another.  The script that David Chirchirillo (616: Paranormal Incident) and Trent Haaga (Deadgirl, Citizen Toxie), although relatively thin is strong enough is simple and effective enough to demonstrate that some people will go to any lengths to win money.  You could look at this film in many ways, as a social commentary on what we've become as a society where television is so deeply rooted in culture now with and so many reality game show over the years, that some people have become lost the fantasy of these shows and believe this is another way to survive.  Or it could a look at the class system that is starting to evolve in America and it has become so bad the affluent rich need to the lower classes to serve as there playthings.  I couldn't tell you what their intentions were but their story line makes for one hell of a disturbing flicks.

  The casting is small, unlike similar horror game movies like "Would You Rather"  and "13 Tzameti", which are also good, I think it really makes a big difference because we can really focus on just these four characters and they have the time to really develop.  Pat Healy and Ethan Embry are amazing as Craig and Vince.  It is amazing to watch these old friends change and turn into these monsters.  Sarah Paxton, I think is  a little under used in this and would have liked to have seen more of her as the birthday girl Violet but she still does a killer job.  I was most impressed with Dave Koechner.  He's mostly in roles as brash idiots and or bullies but in this he plays the shit out of this Colin character.  There are moments when he is what you expect, party idiot, loud and obnoxious but then he changes up and brings some real emotion to some of the screen.  This is probably Koechner best performance that I've seen.

The only thing really disappointing about this film is the limited theatrical release but fortunately, in this digital age, it should be on a VOD system near you pretty quick.  This is a real slow burn and reminds me a lot of Red Room because when you start watching it, the people are doing such silly things at first, you get worried about what you've gotten yourself into but by the end of the film, all the cards are on the table and you understand the real game that's going on.  There is nothing cut-rate about Cheap Thrills.

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