What would you do for $100? What would you do for $1,000? $50,000? How far would you go for $1,000,000? Everyone has a price, but the moral dependency varies within the numbers. When ego is added to the equation it’s easy to double down on the stakes. Temper in some desperation and all bets are off. We can pretend that we would hold our moral ground when faced with a paid physical or social challenge, but I don’t believe there’s a person alive who wouldn’t let the power of the dollar conform them to control in the end.
Would you be able to turn away hundreds of thousands of dollars, the cash itself placed in front of your eyes, in order to avoid carrying out some embarrassing or indecent act? Debut director E.L. Katz explores the individual moral compass tempted by the mighty buck in his darkly humored horror, Cheap Thrills.
Cheap Thrills, currently streaming on Shudder as well as Amazon Prime and Vudu, kicks off its treacherous shenanigans by introducing our lead average Joe, Craig. He’s an average guy working a menial job, married, and has a newborn at home. When the pressure has finally got the best of him and he’s notified of being evicted from his home Craig stops for a drink at the local bar. He is met with an old acquaintance from the past. Craig’s friend from high school, Vince, is carefree, reckless, and dangerously dabbles in less conventional modes of a career. When the two encounter a couple, Violet and Colin, the real fun begins. Colin spreads his wealth around the bar, leading to a simple exchange: $50 to the first one who can get a woman to slap them.
Easy money and shameless betting escalates to a formal game where Colin states the price and Vince and Craig must go against each other to win the prize. This fun black comedy, written by Trent Haaga (68 Kill) ups the ante on entertainment, raising the stakes of horror at each and every wicked twist. When it comes to fooling the audience, Katz and Haaga support thrilling trickery with every cinematic horror component that matters.
Craig, played by Pat Healy (Take Me), is our centered main role. When it comes to the game, his morality is progressively compromised. The impending problems he has at home, regarding money, Break him down and cause him to be someone he never thought he become. Living day-to-day and losing everything leave them in a state of desperation, making him a perfect participate in the game his new friends want to play. Vince, played by Ethan Embry (The Devil’s Candy), juxtaposes Craig’s character as he begins the film already with tainted in morality. He’s been where Craig finds himself and has gone past that point of desperation. Vince lives comfortably not knowing the outcome of his daily situations and giving everything a shot, especially when it comes to money. The two are perfect opposites, each keeping the viewers guessing and debating their decisions throughout the duration of the game.
Violet and Colin, the mysterious couple at the bar played by Sara Paxton (The Innkeepers) and David Koechner (Anchorman), facilitate the betting and supply the rewards. They’re an odd couple from the get go, but their peculiar, well-written, behavior adds to an atmosphere of mounting tension and speculation. Their nefarious requests and seemingly casual demeanors add to the film’s dark tone, while confusing the viewer. What are their motives? Who will win the round? The four characters of Cheap Thrills not only keep the mix interesting, but add special elements of paranoia slowly progressing towards the state of suspicion before the truth is revealed in its audacious ending. No one is who they seem to be, whether it’s exactly as you expected them to be or a complete surprise you didn’t see coming.
The plot, like game is easy to players one that one competition one winner. The prize money starts low, $50 and escalates to a full-blown $250,000 at the end of the night. The game and the bats that go along with it are innocent with A few fair cheats here and there. But as the story develops and we see the characters become more involved and we’re dedicated to winning out over this shenanigans, a deeper twist into the plot evolves. Pitting Craig against Vince pushes the level of violence and debauchery as the game becomes more dangerous, and less personal.
“Tricksters are duped, nice guys finish last, and the strong don’t always survive.”
Cheap Thrills provides some tongue-in-cheek humor, but remains original and authentic from its smooth beginning to the winding middle and all the way through its outrageous third act. The characters and the plot itself dares to go where you think it won’t. Tricksters are duped, nice guys finish last, and the strong don’t always survive. There are moments of relief, moments of complexity, and even moments that will test your gag reflex. The clever narrative is not associated with the paranormal, has nothing to do with a traditional slasher or murderer, and is even devoid of romantic interest, but it holds a flair of status quo in the ranks of horror with its knack for fooling the characters and the audience. The way it keeps some unpredictable players on their toes, Cheap Thrills surely takes special care to shock everyone else.
If there are no rules, you can’t cheat right? Combining these two primary factors, interesting characters and a pretty intriguing, tight plot, together to reach an ultimately twisted ending is a major feat. Cheap Thrills has the gall to put two contrasting characters through a pretty harrowing evening, but the gutsiest stunt it pulls off is reserved for the film’s last few scenes. After a pretty ballsy move on both Craig and Vince’s part at the top of the second act, Colin decides to hit pause, reset, and hit play again. Upping the stakes and circling back to the plot with more violence and progression into the dark corners of the game than before, Katz and Haaga use the remainder of their exceptional 85-minute runtime to really mess with the viewers as well as with Craig and Vince.
Sabotage, conspiracy, and greed steadily emerge as the pacing lead us into the game’s final round, the last bet where the winner takes all. We find that our attention has been so heavily focused on the entertaining execution of the thrills, that we don’t see the multiple cheap tricks waiting for the credits to roll. All of the characters, exposition, and events leading up to the game’s daring ending can not be equated with a discounted conclusion. Cheap Thrill’s two-punch twist is fairly decent and slick by way of expectations being the hidden gem worth its weight in gold. In the end, you know everyone’s value and the cost they have paid to win.
So, what’s your price?
Would you partake in Colin and Violet’s betting game? How far would you go? What are your thoughts on Cheap Thrills? Were you surprised by the ending? Let us know over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook group!