Cheap Thrills

Posted by Joel Copling on April 30, 2014

He has $250,000, tax-free, and all Craig (Pat Healy) and Vince (Ethan Embry) need to do is exactly what he says to win the money portions at a time. The first request is pretty simple, though risky: the longer each holds his breath, the better the chance he'll win the first portion. That's just the tip of the iceberg, though. For Colin, as played by a shrill David Koechner, is a psychopath, plain and simple. Why is he a psychopath? Why does his wife Violet's (Sara Paxton) "birthday present" necessitate this series of increasingly facile games that become more sadistic as they ratchet up the stakes? And what's with the darkly significant looks between this couple any time Craig and Vince seem ready to call it quits?

These are questions that screenwriters David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga seem unwilling (or too uninterested) to answer, and it's a quandary that a film as sociologically loaded as this one needs to cut the tension--however false, in this case--and shock value--however stale, also in this case. "Cheap Thrills" is, indeed, kind of cheap, though there are themes present, lurking underneath director E.L. Katz' rote execution of pretty soggy material. Sure, it helps that Craig is generally a pretty empathetic guy (at least, until the final scene) with some serious financial issues and a wife and kid for whom to care, and it's fine that Vince is his diametric opposite (a self-identified loser), because Healy and Embry do a solid job of connecting with their characters.

Less appealing is Paxton, who is simply there to flit between a creepy sense of arousal and a detached sense of nonchalance as Violet, about whom we never learn a single thing. She is potentially the character in the film that could throw a wrench in the works at any moment, but Chirchirillo and Haaga are inexplicably content to keep her simply a passive observer and, occasionally, helper for no apparent reason. Is she remorseful? Likely not, but Paxton never lets us in. Koechner, meanwhile, plays Colin as a one-note creep and, really, nothing else. There are no levels to his character. "Cheap Thrills" is the same as a film--always bubbling right underneath but unwilling or unable to surface. It's ultimately all about the game, and I didn't particularly want to see it through.

Film Information

Pat Healy (Craig), Ethan Embry (Vince), David Koechner (Colin), Sara Paxton (Violet), Amanda Fuller (Audrey), Todd Farmer (Security Guard).

Directed by E.L. Katz and written by David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga.

No MPAA rating.

88 minutes.

Released in select cities on March 21, 2014.