Toronto After Dark Review: Cheap Thrills
In the growing number of films to tackle the discrepancies between the haves and have-nots, Cheap Thrills takes a rather novel approach. While many films paint the wealthy as villains for simple for being rich, director E.L. Katz ponders the role that those without play as well. Through his dark comedy Katz explores the unhealthy sense of entitlement that permeates all levels of society.
Facing an eviction notice, Craig’s (The Innkeepers’ Pat Healy) day goes from bad to worse when he learns that he is part of the “downsizing” his company is doing. Without a job and with a family to support, a despondent Craig decides to drown his sorrows at a local bar. It is there where he runs into three people who will unexpectedly change his fortune. Vince (Can’t Hardly Wait’s Ethan Embry) is an old friend who makes a living as a gambling enforcer. As Craig and Vince catch up on old times, they meet married couple, Colin (Anchorman’s David Koechner) and Violet (The Innkeepers’ Sara Paxton). With a taste for excitement, and tons of money to throw around, Colin begins tempting Craig and Vince with dares for cash. As the dares get increasingly more dangerous, and the payout increasingly higher, Craig must decide how far he is willing to go to provide for his family.
What makes Cheap Thrills such a unique film is that it forces you to question who is the real villain in all of this? On the surface it is easy to point the finger at the affluent couple who take pleasure in others pain. However, outside of providing drugs and their voyeuristic traits, what evils do they really do? Besides using the power of suggestion, Colin and Violet never get any blood on their hands. The real thing to fear is the money itself, more specifically the obsession with it. Craig and Vince both believe that money will alleviate their problems, and potentially provide a fresh start, but at what cost?
It is the thought-provoking questions that Katz raises that makes Cheap Thrills really standout. The film takes aim at the notion that we are entitled to success if we obey the rules. Craig frequently chastises Vince for dropping out of school and not making more out of his life. However, does Craig’s education entitle him a stable job and a comfortable life? Judging by his current predicament, the answer would be no.
As with most dark comedies, the humour is deliciously twisted. The cast does a solid job in their given roles, with Koechner and Embry being the main comedic standouts. It would have been nice had Katz utilized Paxton far more as she spends most of the time being merely a pretty face. Frankly, Paxton is just too talented to be pushed aside like she is. Regardless, this is a minor quibble in an otherwise solid film. Cheap Thrills is one of those rare dark comedies that not only gets you laughing, but also provides some food for thought.