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Blu-ray review: 'Cheap Thrills' (2013)

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Cheap Thrills

Rating:
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The term 'class warfare' gets thrown around a lot these days, with the ever widening gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else struggling to get their bills paid.

The 2013 thriller 'Cheap Thrills' is a sly commentary on this topic, but more subversive than polemic.

Pat Healy plays Craig, a down-on-his-luck recently fired auto mechanic. He and his wife are struggling to make ends meet for himself and his family. He recounts these woes in a bar to his longtime buddy Vince (Ethan Embry), an ex-con who's also hurting for some scratch.

So it's by fate or cruel irony that they happen upon Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sarah Paxton) , a wealthy couple who are out celebrating Violet's birthday. They aren't just obscenely rich, but they're obscenely unabashed about using money to influence everyone around them for their own bemusement.

Sensing the financial desperation of Craig and Vince, they began placing bets on which one of them will press his luck, be it on getting slapped by a bar patron or fighting a strip-club bouncer.

But these initial tests are merely child's play. Colin and Violet are predators who enjoy humiliation as spectacle, and have sized up just how low their new found acquaintances will sink to make a quick buck.

'Cheap Thrills' plays like 'Lord Of The Flies' and 'The Most Dangerous Game' on a smaller scale, but the stakes couldn't be higher, as the two childhood friends turn on each other in their quest for bigger payoffs, leading to grisly sacrifices, sexual humiliation and the shedding of one's humanity to simply make ends meet.

Healy is great as Craig, a vulnerable soul who's desperation is palpable. And Koechner shines as a sadist who comes off like a frat-buddy taken to the most psycho-sexual stereotypical extremes. He has no hidden agenda, he just likes to see people sink to his level to make a buck, and it's not pretty.

'Cheap Thrills' is billed as a dark comedy, but the longer it goes, there's less chuckles than moments that will make you cringe and gag. The payoff at the end is relatively predictable, but it does offer some grisly charms, even if the narrative's internal logic falls apart upon closer inspection.

Neither Craig and Vince, nor Colin and Violent feel truly invested in each other; merely human props to set up the next gory/humiliating sight gag. This is mainly due to both Paxton and Embry not being able to hold their own against the superior performances of Healy and Koechner.

The Drafthouse Blu-ray release comes with audio commentary from director E.L. Katz as well some entertaining featurettes including a making-of doc, 16 page booklet, trailers and more.

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