James Reviews E.L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills [Theatrical Review]

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What happens when you’re facing an eviction to not only yourself but your wife and kid? You’ve lost your job and you have no time to rectify it? What would you do for fifty bucks? For a hundred? For thousands of dollars? This is one of the questions presented by writers David Chircihirillo and Trent Haaga and director E.L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills, presented by none other than Drafthouse Films. It’s a question that I know I’ve asked myself on many occasions, when times have been tough enough that a loaf of bread was a meal for a week. So this one, while a darkly comical look at it all, hits a bit close to home.

The ‘always-great-in-anything-he’s-in’ Pat Healy (seriously, though, I tend to always enjoy whatever he’s in. Yes, even when he was an alien slave in Star Trek: Enterprise) is Craig, a guy who had potential to do the most in life, but works changing oil at a garage and has a beautiful wife and child. When an eviction notice on his door and losing his job all happens on the same day, he goes out for a drink to unwind. He just happens to run into Vince (Ethan Embry, who is completely unrecognizable in this role, in the best way possible), a friend he hasn’t seen in about 5 years. They used to be tight back in high school, but like a lot of people, you start to drift as the years (and interests) go by. While there they are invited to have a drink with couple Violet and Colin (Sara Paxton and David Koechner).

And this is where things start go on a downward spiral. Make no mistake, Cheap Thrills doesn’t waste any time getting into the whole idea of what desperate men will do for a bit of cash. But there’s more involved in this film than cringe-worthy scenes when money is on the line. For years to come, people will be talking about the ‘finger scene’ in the same breath as Quentin Tarantino’s ‘ear scene’ from Reservoir Dogs. That’s not over-hyping it at all. To be honest, I’m going to go out on a limb (and even though I’m a Tarantino diehard) and profess that the finger has triumphed over the ear. And it was a pinky.

Everyone really is on fire in this film. Healy continues his tear of just showing why every filmmaker should be hiring this guy. His Craig is a great father and husband, just trying everything he can to provide for his family, even by working a job that he knows his heart isn’t into. Embry, as I said earlier, is not the young Mark from Empire Records (he has been in tons of stuff since then, people), but in this, there’s something more that he’s showcasing. Koechner, who I’m used to seeing in more wacky comedies, ala Mr. Whammy himself from the Anchorman films, is charismatic, powerful and sinister. Of course the comparison to the devil will come up, but I’ve gotten more of a ‘Man From the South’ vibe myself. Paxton (who has a reunion with her Innkeepers co-star Healy) is quiet but menacing, and there’s one scene in particular that, as she tells a story of a guy she used to have a crush on, will make you question who the ringleader behind this game really is.

This film feels like a stage play, primarily because of the main four characters interacting, letting things escalate, waiting for the proverbial shit to hit the fan, and when it does, they set up something much worse to up the ante. It’s a simple premise and they don’t stray from it, letting the morals (or lack thereof in some instances) as these two friends start to become animalistic, as their desperation breeds violence, on themselves and on each other. A true base morality tale where you really wonder which way they’re going to go and how far they’re going to fall. It’s a downward spiral and Craig and Vince end up battered, bitter and never the same again.

Drafthouse Films has hit another home run by picking up this film for the world to see. See this movie. See it now. See it in a theater when it comes out near you. See it on demand. Buy the Blu-ray/DVD when it comes out. Spread the word. As of right now, it’s my number 1 film of the year. It’s only been 3 months, I know, but it’s going to take a lot to push it off the high pedestal I’ve put it on. I’ll just leave you with one question that you may or may not be able to answer after viewing the film. What’s a pinky worth?

CHEAP THRILLS is available on VOD and opens in LA/Austin this Friday and in NY on 3/28. Expands on 4/4.