Cheap Thrills: One of Life’s Little Bargains

Here’s a free tip for you: don’t watch this trailer for E.L. Katz’s freshman effort, Cheap Thrills.

Did you not watch it? Good. Displaying some resolve is important. You’ll need plenty of it if you’re going to make it through a night with Colin and Violet.

And whether or not you keep it together, you’ll never forget them or this night. Assuming you see Cheap Thrills, which you should.

cheap_thrills-poster__largeI got to see it at the Another Hole in the Head Film Festival. I was going to hold off writing about it, since the film doesn’t open until March 21st, but I just noticed the trailer and watched it and thought: this trailer isn’t nearly good enough to do the movie justice.

Cheap Thrills is like a strung-out flasher, strolling up to you on the subway platform, giving you a glimpse of his goods for practically nothing. Cheap Thrills is a depraved, cocaine-covered punch in the nose, except you’re punching yourself—as hard as you can—for money. Cheap Thrills is, frankly, one of life’s little bargains. And that’s what it’s about, too. Life’s little bargains.

Whatever you expect from Cheap Thrills, you’ll get that and a lot more.

A night to remember.

A night to remember.

But you didn’t watch the trailer, because you have some resolve, and so I’ll tell you what to expect from Cheap Thrills. Writers David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga have taken a simple premise—one that requires no flashy effects or constant shaky-cam—and pushed so much of it through the mental meat grinder you might taste their knuckles.

Not that Cheap Thrills is super gory, or luxuriates in violence, or gets off on pain. It’s not a horror film and it’s not torture porn and it’s not even really a thriller. It’s just a gristly little drama that gets under your skin in the same way a burrowing insect can.

I'll sell that for a dollar.

I’ll sell that for a dollar.

Pat Healy, whom you may recognize from Ghost World, plays Craig. Craig is fucked in the normal sort of way you half expect to be fucked on any given horrible day. He and his lovely family are running out of dough. See the eviction notice taped to his door? At work, instead of getting a raise he gets let go. Craig seeks solace in a glass of whisky before breaking the news to his wife. At the bar he runs into long-lost buddy Vince (Ethan Embry), a rough and tumble type. The pair get drawn in by Colin (David Koechner of Anchorman) and Violet (Sara Paxton).

Violet likes to watch.

Violet likes to watch.

Colin and Violet are celebrating Violet’s birthday by seeing what they can get people to do for money. Craig and Vince need money. Colin and Violet want entertainment. It’s a match made in heaven. What could go wrong?

Cheap Thrills works surprisingly smoothly, mostly because it’s smart about its trajectory. A less confident pair of writers might start off having Craig and Vince shuck their natural reticence quickly to progress to exponentially higher levels of the horrific. That’s shock value and it’s weak sauce.

Instead, Cheap Thrills keeps Craig and Vince—and the game Colin and the distant Violet—recognizable. No one would be likely to eat a baby or set fire to the State House, or want anyone to do such things, even if a lot of cash was involved. That would be fantasy.

Here. Let me help you with that, buddy.

Here. Let me help you with that, buddy.

What would you do for $50, though? Or $500. Or $25,000? This is the question you ask yourself repeatedly as you watch Craig and Vince weigh easy money against their moral resolve and sense of self-preservation. As they treat each other as complex personalities with open, oozing flaws.

What Craig and Vince do and what they don’t do; that’s Cheap Thrills. The film doesn’t shock you by showing you men doing depraved things. It ensnares you by showing you men choosing to do depraved things. That is a beautiful distinction.

So when Cheap Thrills comes out, go see it. And if, during the middle of the screening, you’re game enough to run up to the front and start humping the screen with your pants down, I’ll give you $50.

Just think about it. I’ve got the money right here.

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.