Cheap Thrills opens on middle-aged Craig Daniels (Pat Healy) trying to sneak in a quickie with the missus before their baby wakes up. No luck for him right there, and that’s sort of the way it goes: money is tight, the eviction notice on his door gives him seven days to come up with a significant sum of money, and he desperately needs a raise.
Instead he gets fired. And he meets an old friend Vince (Ethan Embry) at the bar where he’s drowning his sorrow. The old friends play catch up for a while but that pales into insignificance when they encounter a couple named Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton).
Colin’s throwing a lot of money around, and Vince and Craig can make some of it, if they’re in the mood to accept a series of challenges.
Things get darker when the action is moved to the home of the twisted couple. And before they know it Craig and Vince are embroiled in a game of one-upmanship that leads to increasingly tense payoffs.
I’ve been curious about Cheap Thrills ever since the first trailer came out. And with good reason. Director E. L. Katz—working off a screenplay by David Chirchillo and Trent Haaga—maintains the tension throughout, after efficiently conveying the desperate state of Craig’s circumstances. Mr. Healy does a very good job of inhabiting the character, and Ethan Embry is equally effective as the ne’er-do-well Vince who isn’t above seeking the easy payout wherever he can get it.
Just as interestingly Colin and Violet’s raison d’être is never established, which makes their twisted requests fuelled by a seemingly unending supply of money all that more disturbing.
Final Analysis: This is good efficient horror filmmaking and there are moments in this movie that are likely to stay with you long after the end credits roll.
My Advice: If you are a horror-thriller fan, or an aspiring filmmaker looking for a break, watch this movie. The fans will get a decent dose of the tastiest ingredients served by movies of this nature, and the filmmaking aspirant will receive a master class in compact filmmaking.