April 23rd 2014 04:15
A guy walks into a bar………………………and a thousand generic jokes take shape in parties the world over. But few come with a series of punchlines to match those supplied by Cheap Thrills, a blackly humourous tale of escalating stakes as desperate men lose control of their senses in pursuit of the carrots being dangled before their eyes. Craig (Pat Healy) is having one of those days: an eviction notice pinned to his front door is followed by the loss of gainful employment. He seeks the consoling taste of alcohol but in a down-and-outers bars he runs into an old school buddy, Vince (Ethan Embry). Vince is a debt collector of sorts, using his fists to beat small change out of those with little else to their name.
When a garrulous customer Colin (David Koechner) coaxes the pair into celebratory drinks for his wife and birthday girl Violet (Sara Paxton), cash starts getting recklessly thrown around. Colin wants entertainment for his young betrothed and with Craig and Vince as his designated monkeys, he writes all the rules, watching the pair perform tricks that increasingly place their welfare and dignity at risk. Reconvening back at the couple's opulent abode, Colin will also be testing any notions they have a moral or ethical line that might ever be crossed - and if so, in pursuit of what exactly?
Director E.L. Katz’s deliciously dark debut film, written by David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga, will not be to all tastes. But this resonant dark parable, with its corrosive streak of nihilism, pushes the irrationality of an ordinary family man into a realm of believability. It’s all masterfully acted by a game cast, especially Healy and Embry as the chief combatants, beginning as old friends with buried grudges who are warped – some might say cartoonishly deployed - into nemeses for the mounting schlock carnage they can generate when dollar signs impede brain functioning. Paxton is slyly cast against type as the femme fatale here; she and Healy previously made a great pairing in Ti West’s superb supernatural drama The Innkeepers (2011). The closing moments of Cheap Thrills (2013) – it’s title both brutally and ironically representative of the film’s subject matter - cement its intoxicating allure, Craig striking a classic, bloodied final pose. A twisted minor classic to savour more than once.
Cheap Thrills is now out on DVD through Madman.