To be completely honest, I wanted to see “Cheap Thrills” because of the stellar cast. I was a huge fan of Pat Healy and Sara Paxton in “The Innkeepers”, and have enjoyed David Koechner in “Anchorman” and “The Office”. I have been a long fan of Ethan Embry, and have been pleasantly surprised with his choice of roles since his meaty part in Don Coscarelli’s episode of the Masters of Horror: “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road”. This was a talented cast, working with a first time director- E.L. Katz. The film screened at the 2013 SXSW and was bought by Drafthouse Films for theatrical distribution (of Alamo Drafthouse fame) in a bidding war. This film is excellent. It is shocking. It is hilarious.
The film starts off with Craig (Healy) as an everyday man in a seemingly normal money problem. Reconnecting with an old acquaintance at a bar, the film carries what most people would see as hum drum or realistic. That’s the end of it. A whirlwind begins with the introduction of Colin (Koechner) and Violet’s (Paxton) strangely distant married couple that doesn’t end until the film comes to a close. Just like a wicked rollercoaster ride, I felt horrendously nauseous at the end of the film as the credits rolled. It was disturbingly good.
Colin invites Vince (Embry) and Craig to join him on his wife’s birthday and begins daring the men to do somewhat funny things that make their night more memorable. Getting a bar patron to slap you in the face. $200. Slapping a stripper’s rump before the bouncer catches you. $500. It begins to escalate and moves from a gritty bar to a neon strip club, and then to Violet’s penthouse- where things just get down right nasty.
A lot of the scenes that make you want to cover your eyes and ears have Trent Hagga to thank, in my opinion. A veteran of the golden days of Troma Pictures, Hagga is credited as one of the writers, and those fabulous crazy scenes from Troma carry through. The film has an overall slow pacing, but it separated into chapters by scenes that make you want to run out of the theater screaming. There are many questions that the audience asks that are left unanswered, but it doesn’t harm the flow of the film or the characters. In fact, its better that way.
Koechner amazes in the film, playing the host who switches from a funny guy to one twisted jerk who will do anything to please his wife. Having only seen him in primarily funny man roles, this definitely gave me a bit of shock and surprise, and I look forward to see him again in more serious roles. Healy and Embry had excellent chemistry onscreen, being buddy- buddy one moment, and ready to slit each other’s throats in the next. Paxton definitely showed her acting chops in this film. Being the only female in the majority of the film, her character was aloof, but yet seemed to be driving the manipulation in many of the scenes- with very few lines.
All in all, this film is definitely worth seeing in the theaters. During the more graphic scenes, I heard screams, gagging, and gasps of disgust- which made it all the better for me. Just make sure you go on an empty stomach- you’ll thank me for it afterwards.