Pat Healy Ethan Embry Sara Paxton David Koechner
Cheap Thrills is a perfect title for this film that tests the ultimate limits of human need/greed. I used to have a friend who would play this game: “I’ll give you x$ if you will…” But that was only in the very small dollar amount. And I noticed then that the people most likely to bite were women attracted to my friend, so the money wasn’t really the motivation.
Thrills starts out in a bar, where Craig (Healy) has come to drawn his sorrows after he gets an eviction notice at home and loses his second-rate job. Suddenly, he is grabbed from behind, and turns to find it’s a childhood friend, Vince (Embry), whom he hasn’t seen in five years. Right from the beginning, it is clear that Craig is a straight arrow without much imagination and a keen sense of responsibility, unlike Vince, who is clearly a risk taker and one who lives by the seat of his pants. Craig keeps trying to get home to his wife, but Vince puts guilt trips on him to stay, and since he is rather weak-willed, he gives in.
The pressure increases when a couple at the bar offers to buy them drinks to celebrate Violet’s (Paxton) birthday. Colin is unbelievably generous with expensive drinks, and then begins to play the game of offering money for dares. He starts out at low amounts (albeit large to the two friends), and keeps increasing the stakes throughout the evening and on through the night, and now Colin and Vince keep urging Craig to stay with them. Violet is young and very beautiful, and it’s her birthday, so one of the incentives is not to disappoint her on a special day.
The film is interesting from a sociological/psychological point of view, testing the limits of how far people will go to get money when they’re desperate and feeling responsible for others or they simply feel deprived in life. The writing by Trent Haaga and David Chirchirillo is really fine in its set-up, the clues of what’s to come that are sprinkled throughout, in showing how childhood rivalries begin to surface as the stakes get higher, and suspense as to how the story will end. E. L. Katz’s direction is likewise good in coordination, timing, and sequencing—especially since this is his directorial debut; most of his work has been as a writer and producer.
Healy and Embry are fine foils for one another in showing characters rather at opposite ends of a spectrum, and Koechner and Paxton are likewise perfect in pulling off an ultimate reality game show of their own. He is a middle-aged good buddy out to have fun, and she is his gorgeous sidekick with just the right amount of curiosity showing on her face.
Cheap Thrills is not for the tender-minded; it’s for those who like their horror movies with bloody and gross imagery. I am not one of those, but the story is so well conceived and produced with psychological grounding (e.g., in the personality types and childhood experiences), I could still appreciate it.