REVIEW: Cheap Thrills
– By Zombie Rob
I wanna be the bloke that writes the synopses for The Horror Channel on my electronic programme guide, because he’s a total knob who blatantly hasn’t seen ANY of the films he’s quickly summarising. He’s (I’m only guessing he’s a bloke because he writes like he assumes he’s right, which he rarely is) steered me wrong any number of times and it’s getting on my nerves a bit. This is the fool that made me record and watch “The Devil’s Rain” don’t forget, and I’m still jolly annoyed about that. He also nearly made me miss “Vinyan” with his throwaway and presumptuous ignorance. He referred to “Cheap Thrills” as trashy & gory – thankfully I was right in the mood for some gory trash so recorded it but when I finally got round to watching it, found myself in a far more introspective & thoughtful frame of mind. And thank a deity of your choosing that I was because “Cheap Thrills” is neither gory, nor trashy. It’s violent, definitely, but gives a thoughtful observation of human nature with an original story, great performances and a well, OK script, that does the job in communicating the words out loud during the film.
The paths of two old school friends, Craig and Vince, happen to cross one teatime in a bar. Craig is a married father and struggling writer with many money problems, which have just been compounded by losing his “just until the writing takes off” job as a mechanic – hence this rare visit to the bar. Vince is a gobby, and mostly skint, chancer that likes a beer and kicking up his heels. There’s much back-slapping and “how long has it been?” etc etc until Craig nips for a slash, returning to find Vince has fallen into the company of Colin & Violet. They appear to be very cash rich, and have been making daft bets with each other to amuse Violet because it’s her birthday. Now that Craig and Vince are at their table, they swiftly become involved in the bets, tasks & dares set by Colin & Violet and always for enough cash to be worth it. They get thrown out of the bar for high jinks & mischief, and as they get into the cab Colin says to Craig there’s $500 for him if he twats the bouncer first. They arrive back at Colin & Violet’s gaff, and predictably Craig has got a broken nose and claret all down his front – but he’s also got $500 dollars in his pocket. The bets & dares become darker and riskier, but the money increases accordingly. Colin is pissed off that a neighbour’s dog keeps pooing in his garden. $1500 to the fellow that breaks into his neighbour’s house and poos in his kitchen! Craig & Vince both toddle off towards the neighbour’s, unbuckling belts as they go….
During the evening however, Vince realises that Colin has a lot more cash knocking about and decides to whip out a knife and rob him, involving a reticent Craig. This goes far from plan but after some negotiation and calming down, doesn’t seem to spoil the evening at all. All the time though, the cash temptations grow – as does the troubling nature of the tasks. Up to this juncture, the piece had been both well done and entertaining but from this point, it becomes an altogether different film. The good nature between Craig & Vince is eroded by the competition now between them: Colin suggests to Vince to cut off his little finger for £25,000. After much bad tempered bartering & haggling, they settle on Craig doing it for £15,000 when Vince decides that his pinky is worth more to him that that. This is where the honesty of the film is, when two people with a similar financial situation decide that all requests will be considered no matter how outlandish, and will probably be done with enthusiasm by at least one of them – as long as their financial desperation is adequate. The relationship between Craig and Vince becomes increasingly antagonistic but also, increasingly honest. Craig has always thought that Vince is a bullshitting loser, considering himself to be far more cerebral and worthy. Vince concedes this but also points out that for all his high-brow values and morals of education and family – Craig is in exactly the same position as Vince, not even scraping by in a cruel and demanding world. At least Vince isn’t dragging a wife and son down with him though, so Craig should perhaps have a little analytical look at himself and shut the fuck up. The evolution of events is spectacular, becoming odder and more extreme with every new offer, and this just grabs you by the scruff of the neck and takes you with it. How, in God’s name, will this end??
This could easily be performed as a four-handed play, with it’s limited & unchanging cast and mostly single location but this does mean it relies heavily on the acting stones of it’s main protagonists. Thankfully, everyone is here to make a good film and a strong cast seem to push and nurture each other into wonderful performances. Pat Healy struck me as a cross between Colonel Stewart from Die Hard 2 and Jerome Flynn, but oddly looked like a struggling writer turned mechanic to pay the bills. Not sure how he did that, but his portrayal of quiet and dignified hopelessness is heartbreaking at times – before he shrugs off the normal inhibitions of humanity and goes all-in to secure his family’s peace of mind. Ethan Embry has never really reached the heights that he’s obviously talented enough to reach. There’s more than the faintest whiff of Matthew McConaughey about him and perhaps this is the problem because for better or worse, we’ve already got one of those. His Vince starts as a happy-go-lucky wide boy but soon descends to feral and violent gobshite as the prizes become bigger and it’s an interesting transition to witness. He leaves you in no doubt that his upbeat exterior is a facade, and his darkness is ready to go at a moment’s notice and does it ever. David Koechner as Colin REALLY looks like the imbecilic sports reporter Champ Kind from Anchorman 1 & 2 (he played the imbecilic sports reporter Champ Kind in Anchorman 1 & 2) and because of this, Colin was the most difficult character to slot into this whirlwind of awfulness. In the third act though, this becomes his strength because he’s spent the film thus far being all daft and full of bonhomie. When his true agenda becomes apparent, his transformation into the sinister manipulator is all the more effective. And then we come to Sara Paxton, playing the vapid and empty Violet. It’s easy to think for the majority of proceedings that Violet is there as a muse for Colin to show off to and overwhelm with his largesse. She’s seemingly there to massage Colin’s ego and ooh & aah at his latest fabulous wheeze, to take a stereotypically female role showing compassion and kindness, tending to and dressing Craig & Vince’s various injuries. However it’s only in the final scenes that Violet truly shows herself as the real captain of this ship. Colin is in fact HER lapdog, she’s the complete maniac but Sara Paxton’s lightness of touch and genuine tenderness means you simply don’t see it coming – a rare and tremendously intelligent surprise. When she dabs at wounds, mops fevered brows and soothes aches and pains its not out of care or succour – she just wants to keep them upright and in the game.
Craig returns home, quietly entering his apartment in the first rays of dawn. He drops his hold-all and gathers his baby into his arms, holding him, gently kissing the infant’s head, overwhelmed with parental love. His wife enters the room and switches on the light – sees Craig covered in blood, bones broken, missing bits of himself, surrounded by wads of cash and wordlessly receives the answer to the question “what will a man do to protect his family?”.