By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Going into this movie, I had no idea what to expect.  The fact that David Koechner usually plays goofy and cartoonish characters really threw me off. While this film does have its silly, lighter scenes, the film slowly devolves into a dark and disturbing commentary on human nature and how low people will sink when money is involved. Koechner’s character, Colin, may come across as charming and inept, but he reveals his true colors as he takes the film and the lead characters into some extremely dark and vile territory. Cheap Thrills may be one of the darkest and most twisted movies I have ever seen, but it is also fascinating, intelligent and definitely intriguing.  Even though I often found myself covering my face, cringing and writhing in my seat, I wouldn’t and couldn’t tear myself away. When tempted by riches and desperate for a new life, people often sink lower than they previously could imagine.

Craig (Pat Healy) is a father and husband struggling to raise his family. After he gets laid off from his job, he decides to drown his sorrows in the neighborhood bar where he encounters an old buddy from high school. He and his estranged classmate, Vince (Ethan Embry) decide to party with a married couple celebrating the wife’s birthday. Colin (Koechner) and his wife Violet (Sara Paxton) invite the old buddies to continue the party at their home. That’s when the fun night out takes a bizarre and most disturbing turn.

I am not going to lie. Cheap Thrills will not have mass appeal. When the film goes to really dark places, it is often difficult to watch. The movie does intend to shock and awe and does so with nauseating results.  Nevertheless, I found the movie to be brilliantly written. The most distressing moments serve their purposes mostly well. The film’s bleak look at humanity’s capability for evil will definitely turn some people off, if the premise and scenarios haven’t already.  Because of the simplicity of the film’s settings, I can easily see this movie adapted as a stage play.  The play would certainly need a superb makeup artist to pull everything off.

The writing by David Chichirillo and Trent Haaga wonderfully sets up the foundation for director E.L. Katz and his incredibly talented actors Healy, Embry, Koechner and Paxton.  Katz truly impresses me with this debut and I am eager to see what else this talented filmmaker can deliver. Healy is absolutely amazing in this lead role. He plays the role of a quiet, meek and smart whipping boy well, but switches on the intensity in the films latter acts. Ethan Embry, who is mostly known for his roles in 90s teen films, Can’t Hardly Wait and Empire Records, proves that he can pull off a role as street-wise bruiser with nothing to lose. It really blew me away that this actor whom I have seen play sweet and more innocent characters in the past has now grown up and taken on this intense character who people would probably fear if they met him in a dark alley. Koechner delivers a perfect performance as the charming, but truly evil, devil incarnate who serves as ringmaster for this debasing circus of a party. It astonished me how well he performs in this film, and makes me want to see him in other genres besides comedy. Finally, Sara Paxton may look like an angel when Craig and Vince first meet her, but her character’s quiet and nearly airheaded personality really serves as a facade for some deep seeded sociopathy that she and her husband Colin share. Her subtle performance and her beauty serve the film well.

By now, most people reading this review will have already decided whether or not this film is their type of movie or not. Cheap Thrills is certainly not for the squeamish and will probably offend some with the disturbing and foul acts that take place. I see the film as a smartly written commentary on the wickedness of humanity when in desperate situations and an almost easy out is available.  If one wishes to challenge oneself with a movie that combines intelligence and abhorrence, then step right up and witness humanity at its worst.

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