• TADFF Review: Cheap Thrills (2013)

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    By definition, a cheap thrill is something that “is exciting but does not give real satisfaction”. Director E.L. Katz delivers nothing BUT real satisfaction in the new thriller Cheap Thrills that had its Toronto Premiere at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival last Friday.

    Starring Pat Healy (The Innkeepers), David Koechner (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) and Sara Paxton (The Innkeepers), Cheap Thrills is a slow burn type of film that begs the question “What limits would you take yourself to in order to make some money?”

    We open getting to know Chris (Healy). Chris is having the proverbial ‘bad day’. He has just lost his job and he is on the verge of being evicted from his home. So Chris does what any reasonable man would do – he goes out for a drink. While at the bar, Chris is reunited with Vince (Ethan Embry), an old high school buddy and soon the drinks are flowing like the blood in a Uwe Boll film. While in a state of vulnerable alcohol induced bliss, Chris and Vince begin a conversation with couple Violet and Colin (Paxton and Koechner). Violet and Colin are definitely ‘well-off’ financially and offer Craig and Vince an opportunity at some money if they are willing to partake in various dares set out by the power couple. Each new dare escalates in danger but also in monetary reward. Craig and Vince are then pushed to their emotional and physical limits as they navigate the increasingly sadistic dares presented to them for money.

    Cheap Thrills reminded us a bit of last year’s Would You Rather. Except that Cheap Thrills is a good movie. Directed by E.L. Katz, Cheap Thrills takes it’s time before we really get into the thrills – cheap or otherwise. The slow burn allows for Healy’s character to evolve and we can relate to the man who is willing to go that extra mile in an attempt to provide for his family.

    Healy is at the centre of the film, but the entire cast hits every note almost perfectly in the film’s execution. Koechner in particular is a marvel to watch, especially as he is more known for his comedic roles. Here, he is dark and calculating and he knocks it out of the park in nuanced performance that highlights his talents.

    Cheap Thrills can be considered, in part, a commentary on our present world. Television programs such as Fear Factor are not far off the initial dares to which Vince and Chris are presented. Granted by the end of Cheap Thrills, the comparisons to anything that would be done commercially and what might turn your stomach here are in completely different corners.

    Cheap Thrills was entertaining on so many levels. It kept us interested in the progressively violent story as well as the characters through the various ordeals. It didn’t fall prey to the standard horror film quick kill, but instead drew us in with a ‘what would I do?’ attitude until it finally went off the cliff and produced the goods. Great stuff.