Offering up a fresh (and somewhat disturbing) story of greed and desperation, E.L. Katz's festival winner Cheap Thrills is a rare and unique viewpoint for the genre. With flawlessly blended humor and horror, you can't help but be entranced by the events that take place over the course of one night as two recently reunited friends find themselves pitted against one another in a series of escalating bets.
The story starts off innocent enough as Craig (played brilliantly by Pat Healy) is fired from his low-wage job and is threatened with eviction. In an effort to delay the problems at home, he stops off at a neighborhood bar. There his night takes a sudden turn for the worse as he encounters an old friend and a wealthy couple who are looking for something to spice up their life.
The film plays well with its limited resources, using its small cast and two settings to create a sense of control with the viewer. The film ticks by as if you are there experiencing these challenges with the characters, watching innocently as things begin to escalate, slowly at first, and then with immense force as the knife gains speed, ultimately connecting with skin in one of the most uncomfortable bets of the entire film.
The cinematography is executed well, adding a mysterious tone to the already questionable characters. And in an effort to keep things grounded, Katz is successfully able to keep the story restrained and within the realm of possibility. Keeping things nice and tight allows the audience to fully immerse themselves within the story, countering the chaotic course of events that are beginning to unfold on screen.
I was most impressed with Healy's ability to carry the film. Using raw emotion and a strange sense of recognition, it is hard to deny his talent. But more than Healy, the entire cast appeared up for the challenge, stirring up great energy as they tip-toe through the story with immaculate precision. They each share the screen, effectively understanding their role in the story and adhering to their placement with little objection"”so much so that when the film reaches its ultimate climax, you find the waters muddied as to who is truly the main character. No one appears safe, and with a wealthy couple looking for nothing more than a couple of cheap thrills, that is never a good place to be.