Cheap Thrills (2013)
★ / ★★★★
Congratulations, writers David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga as well as director E.L. Katz, for creating one of the most depressing, deplorable, and dimwitted movies I have had the displeasure of coming across.
“Cheap Thrills” is a would-be dark comedy that, at its most elementary, is about degradation and humiliation. People who will run to its defense may claim it is “social commentary” and “all in good fun.” No, it isn’t. If it were, more thought would have been put into the screenplay. There would have been a punchline behind the satire. There would be have been wit alongside ironic touches. There would have been a sense of energy and joy despite the misery unfolding on screen. No, let’s call this what it is: trash.
Craig (Pat Healy) has a wife and a newborn. He finds an eviction notice posted on the door. He and his family have seven days to vacate the apartment. Already worried about his finances, at work, Craig learns that he has been fired. Later, Craig meets up with a friend, Vince (Ethan Embry), whom he has not seen for five years. Their friendship will be tested by Colin (David Kouchner) and Violet (Sara Paxton), a couple who is practically giving out money to those willing to participate in little dares.
I was able to predict the picture’s trajectory very clearly. With movies like David Guy Levy’s “Would You Rather” (terrible) and Daniel Stamm’s “13 Sins” (surprisingly decent), one comes to expect physical torture, characters supposedly feeling disturbed by what they are about to do, and potentially eating something that will likely make a person’s stomach queasy. What new idea(s) does this film have to offer? Absolutely nothing—and that is exactly what’s wrong with it.
The dares are neither creative nor is there any joy in the execution. I felt like I was spending time with a group of creepy men who desperately need a hobby in order to avoid making other people miserable. The writers had forgotten to answer a few fundamental questions: What makes these characters interesting? Why is their story worth telling? How is the story being told connected to the real problems we are facing as a modern society where money is overvalued and violence sans repercussion passes as entertainment?
As the movie unfolded, I sat in my chair like a wilting vegetable. It offers no entertainment value. It has nothing to say about anything. The gruesome images are presented to us for the sake of shock value. And then it brazenly ends with the title, in bold and white font, filling up the screen as if to communicate that it was inspired by Micahel Haneke’s “Funny Games.” What an insult to a great filmmaker—and to the audience who are fully aware that the film is nothing but a cheap, recycled imitation of less than mediocre movies that came before.