Cheap Thrills is the latest film to come out of the indie-horror mumblegore genre, following in the vein of You’re Next, The Innkeepers, and pretty much anyone involved with the V/H/S movies. The black comedy sets itself up quickly, introducing us to Craig (Pat Healy), a family man low on money, who loses his job just before he’s about to ask his boss for a much needed raise. Depressed, he goes to the bar to contemplate how to break the news to his wife, where he runs into his old high school acquaintance Vince (Ethan Embry) who is also strapped for cash. After a bit of catching up the two meet and begin talking with a strange couple, Colin and Violet (David Koechner, Sara Paxton) who have been placing bets for large sums of money on menial observances the entire night. Then, after hitting all the beats of the tight set up, the film begins its decent into madness. The couple begin offering the two money-desperate men excessive amounts of cash to do progressively more and more depraved dares. From slapping a stripper, escalating into cutting off a piece of one’s own ligament.
The thing I love about Cheap Thrills is that it gives you exactly what you expect, nothing more and nothing less. If the premise sounds intriguing enough to spend the $7 to rent and $15 to buy on iTunes you’re going to have fun. Pat Healy is sympathetic in his role, despite his slacker character flaws and Ethan Embry plays the coked out psychopath with a blend of goofy and scary, but it’s David Koechner who shines as the millionaire who (literally) gets off on watching these men do anything for money. When reality TV is no longer real enough, he creates his own game show where he and his wife are the hosts. There’s an endearing gleam in his eyes that beckons you to trust him. Perhaps it comes from seeing him play so many lovable, aloof characters in his other movies that gives him enough charm to win over not just the two leads, but the audience as well. Horror heroine Sara Paxton stands at the opposite end of the spectrum as one of the baddies this time. And although her character seems a bit underwritten, she has a silent coldness about her that works for most of the film. It’s always enjoyable for me, watching a horror movie where it seems like everyone is having fun with their characters. Usually the “fun” roles are reserved for the villains, but in Cheap Thrills nobody is nice, and every actor is aware of this, playing it up in mostly hilarious or disgusting ways.
Cheap Thrills is now available via VOD from Drafthouse Films.