RevFest 2013 – Cheap Thrills

Cheap Thrills

Directed by: E.L. Katz

Starring: Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, David Koechner, Sara Paxton

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

How far would you go for a quick buck? A financially struggling Demi Moore agonised over a $1 million offer for one night from Robert Redford in Indecent Proposal, and small town folk Billy Bob Thornton and Bill Paxton went to extremes measures to ensure the bag of millions they found stayed in their possession in A Simple Plan. The promise of (a lot of) money makes us loco, and yet we can all relate. It’s no wonder that “Show me the money!” became one of the most quoted lines of film dialogue. Cheap Thrills plays with the morality of a situation in which one is asked to do increasingly outrageous things but strikes an unusual tone while doing it.

Recently jobless, straight arrow Craig (Pat Healey) swings by a bar to drown his sorrows (he has a wife and baby at home he has to support) and bumps into old high school buddy, screw up Vince (Ethan Embry). While the two catch up over drinks, they are invited by Colin (David Koechner) to join he and his young wife Violet (Sara Paxton) and they are playfully dared to take shots for a couple of bucks, but things intensify. The dares start out juvenile but relatively harmless and without major consequence – shots of alcohol, throwing a punch at a stranger, pooing in the neighbour’s house – but it gradually escalates and these men end up doing far more disturbing things than they thought they were capable.

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Carefully crafted, this builds slowly and believably, each subsequent dare only slightly more obscene than the last that it is believable that these two desperate characters would indulge in such behaviour of one-upmanship. The character development laid out in the opening sequence is simple, yet effective. Just a few minutes of conversation and we are acutely aware of Craig and Vince’s plights, which lends to their devastating believability later in the film. The cast is impeccable, even Paxton who is given little to say or do as the constantly texting trophy wife, but remaining an ominous presence throughout.

Director E.L. Katz dabbles with the humour of the scenario, but also sustains a sense of dread. However, this ambitious film ends up in a tonal limbo – often too violent and disturbing to be laugh out loud funny, and sometimes too funny to be paralyzingly frightening. It is a tricky balance to strike, and Katz, with all his ambition shoots, but does not always score. But we do feel like we have gone on this journey with these characters and Katz leaves us pondering our own reaction to such a situation with a haunting final shot.

Cheap Thrills screens as part of Revelation Perth International Film Festival on July 5.

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