Director E.L. Katz—who is a longtime collaborator of You’re Next’s Adam Wingard—makes his feature film debut with Cheap Thrills, a deeply discomforting, nasty piece of cinema that isn’t afraid to push every button in the genre. The film follows Craig, a struggling family man who is on the very edge of losing everything. After running into an old friend at the bar, the two friends are roped into a round of drinks by a charismatic and ridiculously wealthy stranger along with his wife. Together the couple create a series of seemingly innocent dares for the two friends to do in exchange for some quick cash. As the cash reward gets higher and higher, the dares become more and more twisted, showing just how far some people are willing to go for money.
Katz’s twisted sense of humor is on full display here as the film quickly turns into a stomach turning affair that you will likely never forget. The central theme about the film is obvious, how far would you go to make some quick cash? It’s really amazing to see how different people become once money is being waved in front of their eyes. And it’s quite a treat to see the transformation of a family man into something entirely different as he becomes fueled by his own greed.
What’s great about Cheap Thrills is that it becomes a competition between the two friends who at the start of the film are quite friendly towards one another. But as things move along, their true colors are revealed as they both take on completely different faces. Greed, desperation and sheer stupidity become the name of the game as these two dish it out for the highest reward; and as horrible as it is to watch, it’s entertaining as hell, pure and simple.
The premise is genius—even though it’s a pretty ridiculous one—because it sets in motion some sick and twisted dares that only get worse as the cash reward gets higher. At some point you’d think these guys would throw in the towel, but no, what fun would that be? It’s one of those films that never lets you settle down–even in its quieter moments—because you just know that there’s something so much worse around the corner. It’s a fantastic way to tell a story because it keeps you on edge until the final frame; and what a final frame it is.
I can’t say enough good things about Cheap Thrills, it’s truly a demented slice of horror that is just as fun as it is nasty. On the surface is a pitch black ride of pure gut-wrenching thrills, but once you tear away those layers you’ll find something with a much deeper meaning, and what it is to truly want something that your heart desires oh so much.