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While there's nary a viral video to be found in CHEAP
THRILLS, the film is imbued with the culture of now (maybe always) and the fact
that despite pleas for peace, we as humans enjoy seeing each other embarrassed devalued and crushed. It's inherent in
reality television and 30 second fail videos, transcends friendships and class,
and extends right to the 1% who have so much that the only true entertainment
left is the indignities of others.
That sentiment is apparent in the first ten minutes of E.L.
Katz's feature debut, as hard up writer Craig (Pat Healy) is fired from his job as a mechanic. He, as so many hard up do, heads for a drink. Of course, he
heads to a place that long lost friend Vince (Ethan Embry) quickly refers to as
somewhere "you're looking for trouble." It's a dive, the exact kind
of midday hangout you can go, have a look around and think, "at least
I'm not that guy." One of those guys is the rough around the edges Vince,
who Craig hasn't seen in five years and is exactly where Craig shapes him up to
be. CHEAP THRILLS has a lot on its mind, but before it turns its concerns to
the bleak nature of some of our entertainment, it hones in something entirely
melancholy and true: how we outgrow certain friends.
Midst that awkward game of catch-up and judging, Craig and
Vince run into Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton), a brash, flush,
flashy pair who hemorrhage money and want party buds. The two are bettin' men
(and lady) and it's not long before Colin is putting up cash for small bits of
mayhem (race to a tequila shot here, get that chick at the bar to slap you in
the face there). This being something of a horror film, it escalates. Boy, it
By the time, they've ended up back at their posh place, the games
have become a two-man war between old friends, which is where the script from
Trent Haaga and David Chirchirillo veers from boozy dark comedy (and remains
so, just very dark) to rough reflection of a world where the colder wealthy
watch on as shit situations force classmates to forsake each other and
It certainly moves in that order. The games come at the
expense of others, then specifically each other, with little regard for
personal principles along the way (being vague is preferred here because CHEAP
THRILLS is absolutely an audience picture). There's a cynical attitude at play
in the activities, but it certainly doesn't bring the energy down. The movie is
weirdly fun and fraught with nervous tension, with many thanks to a terrific
ensemble. Embry and Healy hold an easy rapport that ground their history and
subsequent predicaments in the ever-mounting atmosphere of insanity.
Additionally, those who come into the film with affection for the tenderness
between Healy and Paxton in Ti West's THE INNKEEPERS will be granted an
additional layer of shudder and devastation.
Comedic talent Koechner is really something here, though.
Katz and the ANCHORMAN star use that widely recognized buffoon-ish persona to
an incredible advantage. Colin wears that same no-filter, little-boundary,
goofy good time air, but pushed to a frightening level when you realize not
only is his intent entirely insidious, but he (and people like him) actually
wields power over the proceedings, as well. That Katz
utilizes Koechner, and the entire cast at large, so well is only one part in
revealing CHEAP THRILLS as an accomplished, confident debut. His camera is the
handheld of a low-budgeted feature, but mannered for maximum effect. The chaos
of an untethered and ill-advised shaky-cam is eschewed for something with
actual verisimilitude. The fact that these connecting characters do such
things to each other and themselves is the real shock/surprise/fright/joke.
There's a good deal of flourish, too. Framing the early scenes in the cheap red
of the early dive is foreboding, and while instances of close-up don't have
Craig or Vince break the fourth wall, they still do read as uncomfortably
confrontational. Later, some of the best moments come when Katz lets scenes
play out with full view of those in backgrounds and corners. It's a small cast,
yes, but their looks, asides, whispers and texts across a living room create a
nervous energy, like Craig is alone in a crowd.
Equally grin and wince-inducing, you could say CHEAP THRILLS
has its cake and devours it too by both reveling in and mocking our love of
others' misfortunes and anything-to-get-by rationalization, but really, that
just makes it more of a subversive reflection.
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