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Saw this at SXSW and I must admit it was very well done. This won the
Audience Award for the Midnighters at the festival and it is
wholeheartedly deserved. The film is a hybrid genre film with a
constantly shifting tone of hilarity, drama, thrills, and extremely
The story follows everyman Craig (Pat Healy, who should finally get some deserved recognition for his extremely demanding role in this) who is down on his luck after having a really bad day. He hits the local bar on the way home from work and sees an old high school buddy (Ethan Embry, in an against-type role that completely works) and the two meet up with a strange couple that wants to have a drink with them (David Koechner and Sara Paxton, who are both deliciously hilarious and mysterious). The four then have what can only be described as a truly horrific night and that is all I really want to say about it because the less you know the better. The concept of the film is laid out easily and quickly, which is developed fully throughout the film as the stakes are raised higher and higher with every passing minute.
I must say that I was very happy to see the movie take so many risks. The content of the film is definitely not for the faint at heart, but if you like envelope-pushing pieces than this is the film for you. Im sure this will divide audiences, but the theater I was in had a great energy and made the film really fun to watch. The director EL Katz introduced the film and told the audience that "it is okay to laugh." After seeing the film, I understand why he said that. There are so many uncomfortable, cringe-inducing moments in the film that the only thing to do is either to curl up in the fetal position or laugh your head off. I had no clue where it was going and the final image in the film will go down as a classic final shot. It is perfection.
People will be definitely talking about this one. It is highly entertaining, the performances are excellent, the writing is tight, and the content of the film is entirely original and unpredictable. I actually saw it twice during SXSW and it was even better a second time. Tons of twists and turns, so please DO NOT spoil it for yourself. Go into it with little knowledge and enjoy the twisted mayhem.
Pat Healey of The Innkeepers fame plays a family man and blue collar
worker who receives an eviction notice and is laid off on the same day.
On the way home, he runs into an old friend at a bar, and the two of
them run into an eccentric rich couple played by David Koechner and
Sara Paxton (again of The Innkeepers) who propose a twisted series of
games for money at their private residence.
To compete against each other for large rewards, Craig and Vince engage in more and more disturbing acts of depravity, self-mutilation and moral bankruptcy.
This is a shocker, and a hard-to-watch one at that. What keeps it bearable is that it's a very FUNNY shocker, particularly with Koechner providing most of the black comedy.
Ultimately this is an allegorical haves-and-have-nots tale that looks at the lengths people will go to in the name of financial desperation. The climax is disturbing and had me doing some sharp self-reflection. Not bad for a first-time director and a tiny budget.
I have to admit I didn't feel attracted either by the poster or the
plot summary. Yet the experience was thrilling and full of surprises:
the acting of the four protagonists is excellent and I enjoyed it all
the way. Also, although the genre of psychological thriller is not my
cup of tea, the director did a great job creating a disturbing
atmosphere sustained by a very good script, good dialogues and deep
human characters. The first work of Katz as a director is, in my
opinion,a successful debut: the movie is filmed with great sensibility
and the art in general is perfectly in tone with what we feel from the
Highly recommendable, no doubt.
An allegory of sorts for the Occupy generation, "Cheap Thrills"
endeavors to answer the age-old question of just how far you would be
willing to go for a boatload of cash. Especially when you've just lost
your job, you're being evicted from your home, and you have a wife and
toddler counting on you for support. This is the dilemma facing Craig
(Pat Healy), an Average-Joe, mild-mannered urbanite who's genuinely
trying to play by the rules but who just keeps getting dumped on by a
world that seems dead-set against him ever achieving his portion of the
On the night he loses his job as a mechanic at a Southern California garage, Craig wanders into a local bar only to hook up with an old buddy of his from childhood (Ethan Embry) and an obnoxious, borderline- sadistic millionaire (David Koechner) who keeps tossing money at the two men whenever they perform impromptu, trivial tasks for him. Things turn serious, however, when Mr. Moneybags ups the ante, throwing out ever more enticing financial rewards for ever more vile and degrading stunts.
Though fairly simple and straightforward on the surface, "Cheap Thrills," written by Trent Haaga and David Chichirillo and directed by E.L Katz, is really a modern-day parable about greed, desperation, exploitation and the dangers of unbridled macho bravado. It portrays, in miniature, a world in which a small number of people have virtually everything in terms of wealth and power, while the vast majority wind up with virtually nothing they can call their own. Craig and Vince have so little to lose, in fact, that they are willing to go to unimaginable extremes to get at least something to keep themselves from feeling like total failures in life. They sense that their very identity as men is on the line here and, thus, they will stop at nothing to assert their primacy over one another, the first step in securing that which they feel is rightfully owed to them and their families.
Colin, along with his equally amoral wife, Violet (Sara Paxton), on the other hand, represents the callous 1% who amuse themselves at the expense of other people's desperation, going so far as to pit the have- nots against one another for the sheer pleasure of watching them brawling in the dirt over the scraps that are condescendingly thrown their way. This is Darwin's "survival of the fittest" as it is played out in 21st Century America.
Crude, brutal, at times unwatchable even, "Cheap Thrills," nevertheless, manages to get under the viewer's skin, forcing him to face harsh truths about society and human nature and to ask himself just how far he would be willing to go to get what he needed to survive. It doesn't paint a very flattering portrait of us as a species, but, let's face it, sometimes you don't always like what you see when you catch a glimpse of yourself in a mirror.
Cheap Thrills is a film that doesn't come with a lot of hype, which it
greatly benefits from , because it will surprise you!
Its a morality tale. What would you do with the lure of big money? Will you turn on your friend and family in order to earn a quick buck? What can pressure do to us? All of these questions are asked and they are answered in a very blackly comical way! The main character's chemistry with his best friend, who both embark on this dark game, is what carries the film the most. Comedy aside, it feels real. It feels like these guys have known each other for a life time, so when the games get darker, you sense that money has overridden all sense of loyalty and rational thinking. Its a scary reminder of what money can do to a person.
As well as being scary and comical, there are a few scenes of shocking violence that will please the more extreme fan. Thankfully the director doesn't overdo it, which gives the violent scenes all the more impact.
Acting, Cinematography, Script, and a sense of connection, makes Cheap Thrills another movie that proves that lower budget films are capable of matching it with the mega budget movies as far as enjoyment is concerned.
Cheap Thrills is the stuff Indie debut wet dreams are made of.
It's got a completely off the hook storyline that's morbidly repugnant yet utterly transfixing; painfully vivid characters that you become almost instantly attached to; performances that are as natural and unstaged as they come; AND it has something accurate and meaningful to say to us in the bargain.
Is it as nasty and gore-ridden as you've heard? Yeah, probably --- but it'll speed by faster than any movie you're likely to see all year. And that's not due to the number of severed limbs, dead animals, or crushed skulls that accumulate in the process, either.
In Evan Katz's first feature, which hangs gleefully on a diabolical script by David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga, the real wreckage is emotional and spiritual. The victims? Mild-mannered everyman Craig (Pat Healy) and his long-lost high school bud Vince (Ethan Embry) who run into each other at a sleazy bar. Craig's just been axed from his job at a quick lube joint on the same day he and his wife and child are given notice they'll be tossed from their motel-room like apartment. Vince is a small-time thug who's merely "getting by" until his next inevitable larceny or strong-arm job.
The predators are Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton), two obscenely wealthy LA layabouts who get their kicks dangling thousands of dollars in front of our two protagonists, baiting them with dares that are ever more risky, repulsive, dangerous, violent, and lethal.
It all sounds very much like an idea for a left-over Saw installment, and it could have been if the script and performances weren't so strong. In Cheap Thrills, the real pain comes not from the frequent graphic gross-outs but from the visceral evidence of the sick (and indisputable) power money has to destroy almost anything in its path. Even though Craig and Vince haven't seen each other in five years, they both carry an extreme amount of baggage that's pried ever looser as they compete for something less than the cost of a new luxury car. Their rivalry begins with subtle taunts, segues to ominous threats, and eventually explodes into irrevocable violence.
In the meantime, Koechner and Paxton drop just enough engaging hints about the well-heeled sadists they portray to make them more than intriguing cyphers.
From an acting standpoint, this film is flawless. Pat Healy shows depths of pain and rage that are sometimes difficult to sit through, while Ethan Embry (a long way from his toasted record store clerk, Mark, of Empire Records) retains a smart-ass gravitas favorably reminiscent of Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman from "Breaking Bad."
No, what Katz is telling us with this film is not news. It is not clever or earthshaking. But it's truth. Hard, ruthless, often ugly truth. If you're looking for merely something cheap and thrilling, I'd pass.
I started out thinking I was in for a one star cheap production. Suggested by the cheap cover and the usual money saver of no subtitles along with Drafthouse Films and Snoot Films as the production companies. That, plus the cheap one room setting, did not put me into an accepting frame of mind. I was thinking along the B level film lines of Tarantino. But, about a third of the way into the film I began to glimpse it's potential. The judgmental viewer exploring forbidden territories in human behavior. The apparent raising of the stakes is not what carries the film - it's the great writing, acting (especially Paxton's mostly nonverbal communication), camera work and directing. Candidly funny, alternating with candidly disturbing, displays of what humans are capable of when fenced in by certain restraints. A good film for a psych or soc class as a vehicle for student discussion. Some alternate endings would have made it even more interesting.
I saw this film as part of The Melbourne International Film Festival and needless to say i am so happy this was on my list. I wasn't really sure what to expect with this film. The summary on MIFF was telling me it was a dark comedy yet the trailer gave me none of that. Don't you hate that? When they sell a film completely out of context. Same thing happened with You're next (Horror/comedy) another film i saw at MIFF which i loved too but the trailers sold it completely as a horror. back to the film though 2 guys with financial troubles bump into each other at a bar and coincidentally meet a rich man and his wife who give them money for dares. As the night continues the stakes continue to rise and so does the money. A pretty simple idea that was executed extremely well. Pat Healy is fantastic in his role as Craig And massive props to David Koechner. I didn't know you could make such dark material hilarious. I'm not going to give anything else away just take my word and go see it. I know this movie had a limited release but if it turns up on DVD or online somewhere just watch it already.
I haven't felt this bad at the end of a movie since REQUIEM FOR A
DREAM. This film, from E.L. Katz, is the ultimate feel-bad movie of the
year. Believe it or not, I mean this all as praise. CHEAP THRILLS is a
movie that drives its point home like a nail to the head. It's a dark
comedy, emphasis on the dark, that aims to sensationalize the perceived
apathy of the upper class to the suffering of the lower class, going so
far as to take perverse joy in it. I never recall laughing over the
course of the movie, but there were a few chuckles scattered amongst
the groans and cringes. It opens on the worst day of Craig Daniels'
(Pat Healy) unfortunate life. He wakes to an eviction notice posted to
the door of the apartment where he lives with his wife and baby, and
he's fired from his menial job at an auto shop later that afternoon.
While he's drinking his problems away at a seedy bar later that night,
he's reunited with an old friend, Vince (Ethan Embry) who earns a
living rough housing gamblers to collect on debts. The night shifts in
an interesting direction when they meet Colin (David Koechner) and his
wife Violet (Sara Paxton), out on the town to celebrate Violet's
birthday with some harmless. Colin and Violet enjoy betting each other
on the pettiest of prospects (i.e. how a bar patron chooses to ogle the
bartender), and they see an opportunity to have some fun with Craig and
Vince. It starts simple
who can drink their shot of tequila the fastest
or who's willing to slap a stripper on the butt
but, as the night goes
on, the game grows more sinister.
CHEAP THRILLS wears its message on its sleeve. It's a frightening glimpse at the power of money and the lengths some will go to get it, but it's also a statement on what passes for entertainment now. The first point is the most blatant, as it's basically the premise of the movie. Colin and Violet are filthy rich. We don't know how he acquired his money; we just know he's got $250,000 chilling in an unlocked safe in his office for the sole purpose of blowing on his wife's birthday. Money is nothing to these people. But for the common man (in this instance, Craig and Vince), money is everything. Craig has a family to look out for and every cent earned goes toward securing their future. Vince is a thug who'd made some poor choices and sees a chance at a better life. At first it's all a game, but then it all goes south and the greed takes hold. Meanwhile, Colin cheers them on like a man watching the latest UFC fight at the local bar and Violet well Violet's chilling. She says very little over the course of the night but it quickly becomes apparent that there's something disturbing under her gorgeous visage. She's calm and collected, often seeming disinterested in the events unfolding around her. Again, it's all a game to these two and Violet shows a chilling disconnect from Craig and Vince's pain.
But, really, the audience isn't much better. The premise of CHEAP THRILLS reminds me a lot of modern culture's obsession with reality television. Average people are paraded about and put into often uncomfortable situations with the promise of potentially walking away with a nice chunk of change. People have no problem going on national television for the amusement of others to chow on bull testicles or knock themselves around in some bizarre obstacle course for the chance at wealth. Well, it's no different than what Craig and Vince endure in CHEAP THRILLS. Colin and Violet aren't any better than the general reality TV audience except, you know, their pretty evil. Things get insane here. This is definitely not a film for the feint of heart. I'm not the queasy sort of dude but there was some stuff here that had me gritting my teeth. This movie is determined to show the ugliness of greed and how it corrupts even the best intentions. This becomes apparent in the final third of the movie when it's obvious there isn't really a "good" guy anymore. We essentially start rooting for Craig. He's the family man who needs the money to give them a life but, by the end, he's just as ruthless as Vince. If anything, Vince is the less sympathetic character but retains the most humanity in the final moments. CHEAP THRILLS is a punch to the gut with a cast of characters that's impossible to associate with and it leaves a sour taste in your mouth when the end credits roll, but it's an entertaining funhouse mirror of a movie that goes off the rails to reflect some of the darkest elements of our culture.
I saw CHEAP THRILLS last night! In case you've never heard of it, Cheap
Thrills is a black comedy thriller directed by horror journalist turned
director E.L. Katz. The film stars Pat Healy and Ethan Embry as two old
friends who, while commiserating over their extreme financial woes,
meet a rich, thrill seeking couple, played by David Koechner and Sara
Paxton, that derive enjoyment from making wacky bets involving risky
dares and large amounts of money. The night starts off light and fun
but as the evening wares on and the stakes become higher, both the ties
of friendship and the limits to which each will go to make quick cash
and tested to the breaking point.
I was thoroughly impressed with this movie. It's exceptionally well acted with Healy, Embry and Koechner playing their respective roles famously. For having a budget of less than $20k it is truly amazing to see how well this movie is made. Hats off especially to the art direction and cinematography in this movie which is all aces as it uses color and lighting very uniquely to give Cheap Thrills a dark and sickly cool look. Ultimately I really enjoyed this film and despite maybe not having the best ending in my opinion, it's still damn good movie which should be seen. Cheap Thrills gets a 4...out of 5.
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