I can't say there weren't some disturbing films at this year's Fantastic Fest 2013. Now unless you're a masochist or some kind of sadist, watching disturbing films without artistic merit or at least a compelling story is like banging your head against the wall. Fortunately for indie horror fans and the general public at large, Cheap Thrills delivers a disturbing yet thrilling story that makes the sometimes-cringeworthy 85-minute runtime worth it.
Cheap Thrills is one of those movies that makes you feel like you've run a marathon through a morally corrupt, corpse-strewn world and come out the other side unscathed but a little emotionally scarred. So that may not sound like a reason to run out and watch Cheap Thrills, but here are some compelling facts that make the case.
The story is compelling, and first-time director E.L. Katz racheted up the tension at an unstoppable pace. This slow-burn tension made a movie that could have wallowed in gratuitous hedonism, but became a train of simmering emotional drama that crashed into a crescendo of violence and deft moral homily.
Ethan Embry plays a foul-mouthed thug named Vince who meets up with an old friend for a drink. Pat Healy's character Craig is a mild-mannered new father who is having major money troubles. Living in a hotel room and facing imminent eviction, Craig is facing a life-crisis and he's at the point of doing anything to save his wife and little daughter from ruin.
This is the set-up for a whirl-wind of violence, depravity, and "quality" thrills. Vince and Craig meet up for a friendly drink, and meet a rich couple out looking for "cheap" thrills. Both Vince and Craig are looking for a way to make money, but how far will they go to get it? And what personal moral codes will they shatter?
Cheap Thrills is a violent thriller that makes you think. It's not pretty to watch sometimes, and the ending is a little predictable, but it will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final credits role. This is in no small part due to the directing, but also the stellar performance from Embry, Healy, Sara Paxton, and David Koechner. Each actor in this morality play brought their best, and the synergism between them practically pops off the screen.
For a basically simple scenario, Cheap Thrills really delivers. It's not easy to take, but it is an excellent horror/thriller that is not only effectively jarring, but intelligent too. Bravo Katz et. al.