August 8, 2014 by Devin
I was all geared up on Wednesday night to sit down and hate-watch God’s Not Dead. Considering many of the situations and characters in that film concern many issues I consider important, I wanted to really dissect it and point out why these kinds of messages are so harmful. Unfortunately, for many reasons, this movie is pretty popular in Bible Belt Tennessee, meaning it was out at Redbox again.
So instead I bought Cheap Thrills, mainly on the recommendation from the folks at Badass Digest (who liked it so much that they distributed it). I had heard it was good but nothing beyond that, so I went into it nearly blind.
And it was an experience. Because this film is still relatively unknown, I am going to go ahead and give my basic thoughts here, giving people an opportunity to go in completely unspoiled, which is not possible for most films. Beyond that I’ll go into points from the main premise, but I will do my best to avoid anything significant, especially anything after the first act.
Cheap Thrills is one of the most disturbing but thoughtful movies that I have ever seen. Many of the situations in the film are tough to sit through, but the moments that have stuck with me most concerned the intense character drama. It is an unsettling film, but not because of what the characters do but because of what they become (or even worse, what they, and all of us, are).
Slight spoilers to follow from here on out.
What would you do for $5? What about $10? What about $200, $300, or even $1,000? This is the central question at the heart of Cheap Thrills, but if that sounds like a lame hook into a subpar horror film, I assure you that there is more to it. A lesser film would posit that question, invite the audience to ask themselves the same question, and call itself deep without challenging the audience further.
Cheap Thrills is not that movie.
The film stars Craig, played by Pat Healy. Craig is a new father who loses his job. When faced with an eviction notice and the knowledge that his family might not have a way out of its debts, he decides to delay the fallout at a bar where he runs into an old high school friend, played by Ethan Embry. The duo catch up and what they have been doing before meeting an incredibly wealthy couple who start throwing money their way for doing simple dares.
“First to finish their drink gets $50.”
“Slap that girl’s ass for $300.”
“Punch that guy for $500.”
And the night only escalates from there.
What keeps Cheap Thrills different from most other movies who tempt their characters with wealth is that Cheap Thrills goes beyond the temptation of money and into looking at money as an instigator of corruption. It is not about showing a situation where a good character does something bad. It is about showing how a good character becomes something bad.
At the center of this film is Craig’s relationship to Vince, the aforementioned high school friend. They begin amiable enough, but the relationship is tested when the stakes rise. The relationship changes. Fissures in the relationship become earthquakes. Small jabs at each other begin developing into attacks which turn into full-on grudges.
And everything in this film cascades. Money is the instigator of the change, but eventually the characters take the corruption and run with it, becoming wholly different beings than when they first started out.
I have seen people describe it as a black comedy, but to me it was nothing short of a horror film. The focus of the film is so tight that it makes every crazy step into hell feel real.
If nothing else, Cheap Thrills is a film that stays with you. Every plot point, character development, and key shot digs into something deeply unsettling about human nature. For that reason alone, it is worth a watch.
1. Did you know that Redbox is selling DVDs now? I bought this movie for $5, which is a great impulse buy price.
2. Granted, that is not saying much because I tend to avoid intense horror or disturbing movies, especially those that are disturbing for the sake of disturbing.