Review: Cheap Thrills

Written by Guest Contributor: Jefferey Pinkos To my knowledge there aren’t any grand narratives on the Great Recession, nothing that encapsulates what it means to have lived through it.  Other collective economic traumas — the Great Depression, the recessions of the ’70s, ’80s, and ‘90s — pushed people outward, toward the fringes of desperation, and pushed too far, people snapped or folded.  See They Live and Falling Down as examples of desperation cinema.

In Cheap Thrills we get more desperation cinema at its basic.  A chance meeting in a bar reunites estranged high school friends, both of whom live on the fringes of subsistence: Craig (Pat Healy), a recent father who’s newly unemployed and facing eviction, and Vince (Ethan Embry), an ex-con who earns a meager living collecting on loans by doing despicable acts.  The two friends meet a wealthy couple (David Koechner and Sara Paxton), who are looking for a good time.  A game is introduced; perform X action first, get Y amount of dollars.  First is penny-ante stuff:  doing a shot, induce a woman into slapping you, slapping a woman’s ass, punching a bouncer.  Soon, the foursome retreats to the couple’s palatial home, where the game progresses to dramatic heights.  The bonds of friendship dissolve in a survivalist squabble for safety and security.  It’s Bum Fights meets Saló.

cheap_thrills_ver2_xlgWithout giving too much away, I can say that it’s an experience.

Cheap Thrills is no great parable for our age.  It never strives to be one.  It’s a mean bastard, unrelenting  and unforgiving. with its neo-Marxist indictment of a codified system of income inequality, implicating the audience in its machinations.  The audience is here for the violence and degradation.  We may not be the ones footing the bill, but we are sitting back and watching.

Oh, and it’s funny too.

Score: 4/5

Director: E.L. Katz Writers: David Chirchirillo, Trent Haaga Studio: Drafthouse Films Release Date: 3/21/14