Cheap Thrills (2013) / Thriller-Comedy

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but definitely would be R for graphic bloody violence, sexuality, and pervasive language
Running Time: 88 min.

Cast: Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, David Koechner, Sara Paxton, Amanda Fuller
Director: E.L. Katz
Screenplay: David Chirchirillo, Trent Haaga

Review published March 18, 2014

They say everyone has their price, and here is a movie that tries to prove it.  Cheap Thrills isn't very complicated, showing the shocking lengths people would go to in order to get quick and easy money.

Craig's (Healy, Mr. Fix It) a devoted husband and recent father whose struggles with paying the rent have led to an eviction notice just before his woes are compounded with getting laid off from his menial job. $4500 in the hole with no glimmer of hope in sight, he decides to go out for a drink before going home to break the bad news to his wife (Fuller, Red White & Blue), only to stumble into an old friend from his high school days, Vince (Embry, Eagle Eye), who barely scrapes by himself as a debt collector. The two are soon instantly befriended by a strange couple partying in the bar, the wealthy, coke-snorting Colin (Koechner, Anchorman 2) and his trophy birthday girl Violet (Paxton, Superhero Movie), who seem to have a solution to both their problems: they will pay out cash to see the two men perform a variety of dares for their amusement, eventually taking the party to their house where the dares get increasingly interesting (i.e. dangerous).

First-time feature helmer E.L. Katz's direction works well enough for the kind of material it is, but it's the material itself, scripted by David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga, that doesn't really evoke much to follow save to provoke audience reaction.  The dares not only become increasingly deadly, but mostly increasingly gruesome, to the point where you may likely seek to avert your attention from the screen.  Unfortunately, without some sort of hook to the storyline, there's really nowhere for this crew to go with the material except to borderline-horror levels of violence, and though the cast features some interesting comic performers, and the tone delves into the black comedy bag for inspiration, the lack of actual laughs becomes a major disappointment.

While we're clued in to just why the protagonists of the story would do what they do in order to try to make their own lives a whole lot easier, there's little investment in characterizations beyond the obvious.  The rationale behind the actions of Colin and Violet in particular are never delved into with any depth, which is a shame because that angle would definitely have given a too-simple premise more meat for us to digest instead of escalating levels of graphic torture-porn titillation.  It sure seems like a lot of money for Colin to expend just for a few sadistic chuckles.

Unless you're just titillated by stomach-churning depictions of violence and human depravity, Cheap Thrills will likely live up to its name by supplying not much more than a few easy, queasy, gross-out moments.  Despite good performances by Healy and Embry, and some nifty direction by Katz, the lack of a convincing hook in its climax and a lack of taste in its execution don't do the build-up enough justice for a recommendation, especially without being a rollickingly funny time.  Michael Haneke's Funny Games did this material similar, only better, and scarier.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo