Case Of The Mondays: Cheap Thrills
Article by Aaron Haughton
Craig is going through a rough patch. He's a failed writer and struggling family man who just lost his low-wage mechanic job and is facing eviction from his small and unfashionable apartment. In an attempt to delay the bad news to his wife, Craig heads to a local bar where he runs into an old high school pal, Vince, who is now a roughneck collector of gambling debts and also a little down on his luck. After a brief reunion, Craig and Vince are roped into a round of shots with wealthy couple Colin and Violet, who engage the two friends into a series of dares in exchange for money over the course of the evening. As the night drags on, the stakes are gradually increased.
The premise is outrageous, yet realistically plausible. I think that if I had a large sum of money, I'd probably get bored and pay strangers to do some outlandish things too; although, I double I'd get into the depths and darknesses that Colin and Violet do. But that's essentially what the film is at the core; a study of darkness that lurks in all of us, waiting to come out for the right price. Whether you wanna call it cheeky satire or gory schlock, Cheap Thrills is an exploration of the darker side of human nature for the reality show generation. It's a film that leaves you questioning what you would personally be willing to do and for just how much. Because, let's face it, both you and I know everything has a price tag.
One of the better aspects of the film is its nice sense of pacing. It manages to tear through Craig's backstory and set up the story within the first 5 to 10 minutes, allowing us to get into the ratchet chain of events early. Things don't spiral out of control too quickly, either. The events that unfold and the antics that ensue are very gradual, beginning with the seemly innocent before dovetailing into the more absurd and depraved. It's not until about the halfway point where the fun and games aspect turns into an all out rivalry amongst old pals, which is when the heat really starts to turn up. All tensions rise into a very taut and gory third act with one of the more unforgettable final images in recent years.
The performances are a huge selling point and make the somewhat ridiculous narrative a bit more believable. The cast is bare bones and basically only includes four main players, Pat Healy (Craig), Ethan Embry (Vince), Sara Paxton (Violet) and David Koechner (Colin), all of whom share some delightful chemistry on screen. While the acting is sturdy across the board, but I have to tip my hat to Pat Healy for bringing a lot of empathy and likability to his character, giving it a nice layer of depth. Craig is essentially the only character in the entire film to exhibit any kind of true character arc; the others characters only change in very minor ways or not at all. I've also gotta call out Koechner because it's nice to see him play a more serious role without much comedy emanating from his knack for playing the fool.
Katz's direction is a bit sloppy in execution. It relies heavily on the handheld approach that ranges from fairly static to sloppily shaky. Mostly, it goes unnoticed, but when it gets too unnecessarily bouncy, it easily becomes a distraction and can briefly pull you out of the story. Otherwise, his style of direction allows room for the performances and the story to dominate, which are enough to rope you back in and keep you glued to the screen.
For those that prefer their comedy pitch black, I think Cheap Thrills will strike a chord, all the while somewhat servicing the horror hounds and thrill jockies out there as well. It's a film that delivers what it promises and may even surpass your expectations in some regards. While it's not wholly original, it's one thrill ride that I quite enjoy, and it's one that you can cheaply enjoy from the comforts of home because it's currently available for streaming on Netflix. So, kick them dogs up, crack open a cold one, and unwind after a long day by watching two people degrade one another for some not-so-cheap sums of money.
Rating: 3.5 severed pinkies outta 5.
What do you think? How far would you be willing to go to make ends meet? At what point would you exit the film if you were Craig? Did the film work for you? These are questions we want answers to. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comment section below, and, as always, remember to viddy well!