Review: Cheap Thrills / Cert: 15 / Director E.L. Katz / Screenplay: David Chirchirillo, Trent Haaga / Starring: Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, David Koechner, Sara Paxton / Release Date: June 6th
Think Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, think Gareth Edwards’ Monsters. Great directorial debuts, films all produced for not much at all that made a big impression on genre fans. Well, now you can add another to the list, because E.L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills is an astonishingly assured and well-crafted piece of work that deserves a huge audience.
After being served an eviction notice and then being laid off, down on his luck new father Craig (Healy) ends up in a bar, where he meets high school friend Vince (Embry) who he hasn’t seen in about five years. The two of them encounter a wealthy couple Colin and Violet (Koechner and Paxton) who are not shy of dishing out their cash as it is Violet’s birthday. Colin starts to issue dares that start out relatively harmless ($50 to smack a stripper's behind, etc) but soon escalate into a cavalcade of the grotesque. Craig and Vince find themselves thrust into competition with each other in a battle of greed and desperation that leads to ever increasing violence.
The film that Cheap Thrills is most reminiscent of is Reservoir Dogs as it takes place mostly in one location and has brilliant characters with well written, real-sounding dialogue. It also escalates the tension in a very natural way that never feels contrived. As the stakes increase and the desperation mounts, you are right there with the characters and in your head you start to play a game: what would you do when faced with the same situation.
Even though many of the characters' actions are despicable, somehow they all remain likeable thanks to the brilliant performances. Pat Healy is an actor who is becoming really fascinating to watch with each new role; his character is the window into this awful night and because we start with him, he remains the anchor for the audience's sympathy and fulfils this role very easily. Ethan Embry plays a low-life thug a world away from the teen idol characters he started his career with, but he gives a seemingly shallow character hidden depths as the film goes on. David Koechner is an actor mainly known for bit parts in raucous comedies but here his performance is more mannered and subtle and somehow absolutely chilling and one that stays with you.
Knowing very little about the unsavoury places that Cheap Thrills goes is probably the best way to see the film; its dark, funny, unsettling and sneaks up on you. E.L. Katz has made a black comedic masterpiece for these troubled times and proves to be a great storyteller and a major new talent.
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10