Cheap Thrills (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||E. L. Katz|
|Music by||Mads Heldtberg|
|Edited by||Brody Gusar|
|Distributed by||Drafthouse Films|
Cheap Thrills is a 2013 black comedy thriller horror film, directed by E. L. Katz in his directorial debut. It premiered at South by Southwest (SXSW) on March 8, 2013, and was acquired by Drafthouse Films and Snoot Entertainment. It was released on March 24, 2014, in the United States.
Craig (Pat Healy) is an auto mechanic. On his way out to work one morning, he spots an eviction notice pinned to his front door, saying he will lose his place unless the back rent of 4,500 dollars is paid. His day gets worse when a meeting with his boss ensues, and he loses his job. He is now dazed, confused and worried and seeks solace in a dive bar. By chance he meets an old friend from high school, Vince (Ethan Embry). After their reunion, they then meet in the same bar a rich couple, Colin and Violet (David Koechner and Sara Paxton). They appear friendly and benign initially, and after becoming aware of Craig's dire financial situation, offer them money in return for completing certain tasks to entertain Violet, as it is her birthday.
Firstly, Colin offers 50 dollars to the winner of a shot-drinking race between Craig and Vince. From there, the danger of the tasks escalates along with the payout. The dares result in a bouncer confronting Craig outside the premises as they make a quick escape after Vince pinches a girl’s backside for money. Colin, Violet and Vince are in their getaway car when Craig is offered five hundred dollars by Colin, who is speaking with the window down from within the safe confines of the car, to hit him first. Craig does so, but the bouncer responds and Craig is knocked out.
When he comes to, he realizes he has been brought to the home of Colin and Violet. He is a little messed up after being smashed by the bouncer, but he and Vince begin to establish where exactly they are and start engaging with Colin and Violet. From here, tensions between Craig and Vince begin to emerge when they compete with each other in their first fairly mild-mannered “winner takes all” money task - starting with Vince urinating on Craig's shoes. When Craig angrily goes to clean up in the bathroom, Vince accompanies him and they hatch a plan to rob the couple. Vince divulges to Craig that there is about 150,000 dollars in cash in a safe he saw Colin at in an adjoining room whilst they were chatting about up and coming bets and the taking of some drugs. It is at this point, that Vince proposes that he and Craig steal the money. Vince recommends that Craig doesn't get involved, as he perceives him to be too weak to conduct such a task. However, the temptation is too great particularly when Craig is reminded of his debts, so he agrees to assist Vince.
They leave the bathroom, and position themselves so that at knife-point, Vince manages to get Colin to reveal that the safe is unlocked, whilst Craig "holds down" Violet. Craig retrieves the money from the safe via two boxes, and returns only for Colin and Violet to turn the tables via a swift counter-attack in which Colin (revealed to be a black belt Karate champion) disarms Vince whilst Violet pulls a pistol from her bag and points it at Craig.
It’s at this point that Colin reveals his "plans" for the two of them. He confesses that in fact there is 250,000 dollars in cash, and that he and Violet agree to let bygones be bygones if Craig and Vince promise to behave and "be cool". He states that the two of them will be allowed to leave and take all of the money with them if they continue to play their game of dare. This is met with a slight sense of disbelief, but once the realisation sets in that Colin and Violet are sincere, they agree.
From here, Craig and Vince’s situation escalates into an increasingly dangerous mix of devilment-induced dares, starting with a breath-holding contest in which Vince punches Craig in the stomach to prevent him from winning so that he may claim the prize money himself. Colin devises these contest and finds pleasure in provoking the two of them via the lure of monetary rewards, into conducting lewd, sordid and stomach churning actions. They are reminded that there is an obligation owing to the fact that it is Violet's birthday (which is never proven to actually be true, it is merely quoted as such).
They are taken outside and coerced into breaking into their neighbour’s house in order to poo (crap) on the floor and capture it on film as proof. This is cited by Colin as acceptable, as their dog regularly does the same thing on his patio. Vince reminds Craig that this is tantamount to breaking and entering, and that he knows the score with regard to the law on this matter. He recommends they don’t do this but Craig is now fuelled by desire for the money he perceives to be his lifeline. Subsequently, the two of them creep over and enter via an unlocked back door. Craig performs the deed, and flees quickly. However, whilst Vince is following suite one of the children downstairs awakes, disturbing him. This results in him failing to realise his mission. He too flees hurriedly, and on his way happens to come upon and subsequently snatch the offending dog from the back yard. Upon his return, he suggests he ends Colin’s issue by killing the dog. The offer is refused, with Colin commenting that he would never want an innocent dog slaughtered in such circumstances. This apparent gesture of goodwill is designed to confuse Craig and Vince into thinking that perhaps the level of dares are more muted than they were expecting.
However as things move on, Violet becomes more involved. She ups the stakes by suggesting, and ultimately getting, Craig to have sex with her on the floor in front of Colin and Vince. Craig is recompensed though to the tune of 4,500 dollars. This happens to be the exact amount required to pay for Craig's outstanding rent demand. The fact that Craig was chosen to perform this deed angers Vince enormously. He views it as an unfair bet, and it increases hostilities between the two friends.
Now humiliated and feeling guilty for cheating on his wife, Craig withdraws from the game and leaves unnoticed by Colin and Violet, having earned enough money to delay homelessness for the time being. Violet seems to have begun to develop feelings for him, and upon finding out is upset and becomes withdrawn, as the game’s whole purpose was, after all, to entertain her. Vince, though, is absolutely desperate to win some more money. He now offers to perform anything asked of him.
After consideration, Colin suggests the amputation of Vince's pinkie finger for 25,000 dollars. Now the stakes are getting higher, and just as Vince is about to accept, Craig returns to the room in a blaze of bravado, stating that he has only temporarily solved his problem with the money he has earned so far in the various dares. A confrontation ensues, and he offers to the do the same dare for a smaller sum. Vince also goes lower, and they go back and forth until Craig settles for 15,000 dollars. Vince brutally chops Craig's pinkie off using a meat cleaver. This results in Craig winning again, and albeit he is in agony, only serves to anger Vince further.
The next challenge involves eating a portion of the by now dead dog, brought back earlier by Vince. It had apparently died while trying to eat Craig's finger, and seemingly cooked whilst Craig’s injuries were attended to, and vocal tensions generally were uppermost. The winner of the race to finish their portion first would receive 50,000 dollars. This contest results in a draw. So, a tiebreaker is devised. The money will be given to whoever eats Craig's finger. It is tossed across the floor and a small fight ensues before Craig wins by eating it. This is a little too much though, and he spews up the dog and the finger. Amazingly, he still gleefully claims, and gets, the “prize” money.
Soon, however, and when his guard is down, he gets beaten up savagely by an enraged Vince. Craig is left on the floor in a bad way, and whilst Violet tends to him, Colin takes Vince outside to calm him down. It is then that Colin listens to Vince’s rhetoric and character assassination of his “buddy”, mentioning that Craig has been favoured above him. Colin chillingly whispers that maybe the solution is for Vince to kill Craig - and pocket all of the 250,000 dollars.
Once back inside the apartment, Vince draws a knife when Craig is bending down with his back showing, unaware of Vince’s intentions. The tension mounts as Vince considers the consequences, subsequently finding he is unable to kill his friend. He retracts the knife and merely suggests aloud that he and Craig leave. However in a neat twist, Craig spins around brandishing a gun (which we assume is given to him by Violet when she tended his wounds). He fires once from close range, wounding Vince badly. As a disbelieving look emerges on his face, he is then shot once more, fatally this time.
The brutal conclusion does not seem to overly concern either Colin or Violet however. Neither appears disturbed by the killing, merely acknowledging it has happened and almost casually wondering “what next”. Colin calls an aid (who’d previously been telephoned about an apparent take-away, which at the time seemed to suggest the arrival of food, but now the term meant more in terms of the body to “take away”). His request is for someone to come to the premises in order to “clear up the mess”. Meanwhile, Craig scoops up all of his “winnings” into a large holdall. As he leaves, Colin is shown paying Violet 20 dollars as the two had made a bet on which friend would kill the other; Violet chose Craig and won. We then see Craig staggering towards a cab Colin had kindly arranged for him, and he eventually arrives home. As he enters the apartment, his son is crying. He deposits the contents of the bag onto a seat, some of which spills over onto the floor. The money is bundled tightly, and some of it reveals the blood stains he is still covered in. In the early morning gloom, he lifts and comforts his child when suddenly the lights are turned on and his wife appears, staring at Craig covered in blood and at the money strewn all around.
- Pat Healy as Craig Daniels
- Sara Paxton as Violet
- Ethan Embry as Vince
- David Koechner as Colin
- Amanda Fuller as Audrey Daniels
- Brighton Sharbino as Luann
- Todd Farmer as a security guard
Cheap Thrills was the first feature-film directed by E. L. Katz. After premiering at South by Southwest, a day-long auction took place for rights to the film in a rare bidding war. Drafthouse Films, partnered with Snoot Entertainment, won the auction. Drafthouse Films plan on releasing the film theatrically on limited screens. It later screened at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Drafthouse Films released Cheap Thrills on DVD/Blu-ray May 27, 2014 which included a comprehensive, 45-minute documentary called "Vital Heat: The Making of Cheap Thrills".
Joe Leydon, writing for Variety, said that film "is a thoroughly nasty piece of work, which doubtless will be the strongest selling point for this worst-case scenario about steadily escalating dares and degradations". John Defore, of The Hollywood Reporter, said that the film is "one of the most involving works of cinematic misanthropy in years". Defore compared the film to Indecent Proposal and The Most Dangerous Game. Scott Weinberg, of the online horror website Fearnet, said, "Cheap Thrills breezes by on a twisted idea, a fantastic cast, and a bunch of ethical quandaries that are both eerily uncomfortable and slyly fascinating at the same time."
Simon Foster of SBS Films said, "A textbook case of a film that never quite amounts to the sum of its parts, Cheap Thrills is still more than its title suggests and provides dark entertainment for those in the mood."
- Gilchrist, Todd. "Cheap Thrills Director E.L. Katz On Small Budgets, Big Ideas And The Horror Of Financial Success". Forbes. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
- "Cheap Thrills". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
- Yamato, Jen (March 11, 2013). "UPDATE: Drafthouse Films Picks Up ‘Cheap Thrills’ In First Deal Of SXSW 2013". Deadline. Retrieved August 28, 2013.
- DeFore, John (August 6, 2013). "Cheap Thrills – H2013 Cheap Thrills: Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 28, 2013.
- Leydon, Joe (March 22, 2013). "Film Review: ‘Cheap Thrills’". Variety. Retrieved August 28, 2013.
- Weinberg, Scott (March 9, 2013). "FEARnet Movie Review: 'Cheap Thrills'". Fearnet. Retrieved August 28, 2013.
- Foster, Simon. "Cheap Thrills". SBS Films. Retrieved August 28, 2013.