In a world where "Fear Factor," "The Biggest Loser" and any shows that test human limits for money are old hat it’s rather hard to get behind a flick that sports the same. Plus is it really fun watching poor saps risk their soul for a few measly dollars? Fortunately in the sick, twisted and way too fun new film "Cheap Thrills" it is and then some, mixing both dark comedy and drama to produce a film that’s not unlike an out of control roller coaster – a wild ride.
Family man Craig is having a bad day. He’s wakes up to his wife goading him about getting a raise, comes face to face with an eviction notice and sets out to his underwhelming minimum wage job. Things then go from bad to worse when his boss decides to downsize and let him go, so Craig heads to a local bar to have a drink before heading home. There he runs into Vince, an old high school chum and the two begin to reminisce about better times. Enter Colin, a wacky cash heavy party guy and his cool quiet girlfriend, birthday girl Violet, who invite the two over for drinks and begin to play a game with the two down and out gents – what will they do for money?
To reveal their various challenges, which go from significantly bad to worse, would be a crime as it’s half the fun. Plus I would be lying if I didn’t say I was positively glued and eager to find out what task was next on the chopping block. Sure there’s a fascination about the price of dignity, but in the end "Cheap Thrills" is simply a hoot. Altogether funny, exhilarating, degrading and demented, the content within could be seen as merely humorous shock fodder, but in the hands of a notably skilled cast things goes so much further. At the forefront here is guilt-ridden everyman Craig, played with perfect emotional gusto by actor Pat Healy. (Is it just me or is Healy getting better with each film?) As the geek ridden hotel jockey of Ti West’s "The Innkeepers," the sadistic voice out for malice in "Compliance" and now the money and respect seeking sucker of "Cheap Thrills," the ever-ample Healy here takes what could have been a one-note performance and adds some human flavor to the fun. Equally unforgettable is David Koechner’s comedically complex Colin, a tragic joker with equal parts light and dark that turns the funnyman’s famed persona in its ear and dares to go in a whole new dark direction, not to mention Healy’s Innkeepers partner in crime Sara Paxton as Violet, who steps out of her comfort zone as Colin’s cold and calculating co-conspirator. If there’s one thankless role here it’s Ethan Embry’s rough and tumble Vince, the one guy who seems game for everything, but it’s his ease and desire to perform any task that add a nice counterbalance to all of the above.
"Cheap Thrills" may be like gleeful torture porn to some, while being utterly repugnant to others, but to yours truly it's thankfully a little bit of both. Blending dark comedy, raw human nature, sadistic stunts and the unflinchingly hitting puree, "Cheap Thrills" is one unforgettable movie experience. I laughed, I cried, I couldn’t turn away – thank god.
"CHEAP THRILLS" HITS VOD AND SELECT THEATERS ON MARCH 21 FROM DRAFTHOUSE FILMS.
Title: "Cheap Thrills"
Genre: Drama / Comedy
Cast: Pat Healy, Sara Paxton, David Koechner
Director: E.L. Katz
Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Company: Drafthouse Films