US 2103, 88m, New Artists Alliance/Snowfort
UK distributor: Koch Media, Cert 15
Craig (Pat Healy) has a wife, young child and an eviction notice to worry about when he is laid off from his job. Seeking to drown his sorrows, he bumps into old friend Vince (Ethan Embry) in a bar. As they catch up with each other, they soon find themselves joined by Colin and Violet (David Koechner and Sara Paxton), a well to do couple who seem to have money to burn. What starts out as a series of dares by the pair for small amounts of cash seems relatively harmless. However, the dares become increasingly outrageous. As the ante keeps rising, both Craig and Vince begin to see a way out of their current financial predicaments. It becomes apparent that, given the right circumstances, people will indeed do anything for money...
What starts out deceptively feeling like a drunken-night-out comedy rapidly turns into something altogether darker. It could be taken on several levels really, perhaps as an allegory of sorts or a meditation on the wealthy expoiting the downtrodden, the affluent couple using their hapless quarry as mere playthings to relieve their evident boredom with their comfortable existence.
It's a thread which has a long lineage in the horror cinema, going all the way back to Richard Connell's oft-filmed The Most Dangerous Game (aka The Hounds Of Zaroff) from 1924, where a big-game hunter found himself the hunted, stalked by a bored millionaire for sport. This latest variation on the theme turns the concept in on itself, creating a claustrophobic piece in which, not only are the contestants in this bizarre contest in a confined space, they are also quite willing to be there. Tellingly, there is never any sign of any entrances to the couple's home (where things eventually end up) being locked.
You might alternately take it as a very black comedy. There's plenty going on in David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga's screenplay, and it's a tribute to all the talents involved that it keeps several proverbial plates on the spin without dropping one. When Colin points out to his guests that its just like a reality TV show, he's unnervingly correct. Even the most cursory glance at todays TV schedules would suggest that we're but a short step from the antics of Cheap Thrills becoming next year's primetime entertainment. Scary indeed.
Cheap Thrills is neatly satirical, darkly humourous, thought provoking and extremely well acted. Don't be fooled by the 15 certificate, either. You may not see a hell of a lot graphically, but this is a film which is frequently cringe inducing and occasionally downright uncomfortable.
Making his directorial debut, E.L. Katz has done a fantastic job. It's most heartening to see such an intelligent indie horror/thriller get a half decent theatrical release in the UK. If it reaches your local multiplex, do check it out.
Cheap Thrills is currently on theatrical release in the UK, and is available on DVD/Blu-Ray on July 28th from Koch Media.
Original Theatrical Trailer: