Oh the things we do for cash. Craig has a problem. Seven days from eviction and only twenty bucks left in his wallet, he has kept his wife and newborn in the dark about their financial stability. The clichéd ask-your-boss-for-a-raise-turning-into-getting-fired scene leads him to a lonely night in a bar – but everything that follows is anything but expected. Craig meets an old friend, Vince, and they strike up a conversation with a rich couple in the bar who seem to want to pay them to do crazy shit like get in a fight with a bouncer or pee on their friend’s leg. As the night goes on, the tasks get more outrageous, and it becomes a game of wills between Craig and Vince, each pushing to do the most degenerate things they can to please the couple.

Cheap Thrills takes the audience down a rabbit hole of deviance, one held together by the fascinating performances of (normally comic) David Koechner and Sara Paxton as the couple with too much cash. Koechner, the loud mouth character actor from Anchorman and The Office, takes that same shtick and turns it for a darker purpose, really carrying off a fun-loving menace with ease and a smile. Paxton dominates the film from the sidelines, her cold restraint willing the men to go further to elicit any sort of reaction out of her.

The two ‘contestants’ in the game, played by Pat Healy and Ethan Embry, are fine, but as this is a movie about making people do things out of character, they never really interest the audience as much as the game itself. This is a shame actually because the film is full of shocking and exhilarating moments, but the effectiveness is minimized because I never really cared about Craig (or Vince for that matter). They were sort of generic audience stand-ins. Maybe that’s the point of the film – that you ask yourself, would I cut off my own finger for $25,000? Unfortunately, this kept the material at a distance for me, it was a fun ride, but it doesn’t really stay with you. Still, the filmmaking is very inventive, for a twist on the contained-in-one-house horror film – this horror is all of the participants’ own making. Cheap Thrills opens today (Friday, March 21) nationwide and in Austin at the Alamo Lakeline and Slaughter Lane.


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