I’ve already reviewed Cheap Thrills, back when I was given a screener to take a look, so this won’t be a full, in-depth movie review, as much as it will be a refresher, and an examination of the Blu-ray release from Cinedigm and Drafthouse Films. Cheap Thrills is another film that secured itself a spot on my top 20 list last year, but most of you will just now be seeing it in 2014. The movie is directed by E.L. Katz, and stars Pat Healy, Sara Paxton, Ethan Embry and David Koechner. The story is a familiar one, basically a high-stakes game of truth or dare, but it is presented in such a way that makes it feel fresh and original. The cast is fantastic, all of whom steal the show any time they’re on camera. I hadn’t seen anything from Ethan Embry in recent years, but I’ve always been a fan. This definitely isn’t a role he’d usually appear in, and he does such a good job that I hope it gets enough notice to secure that guy a lead role or two in the immediate future. Below are some snippets from my original review, and some Blu-ray specifics underneath that.
About The Film
Cheap Thrills follows Craig (Pat Healy, Compliance), a struggling family man who loses his low-wage job and is threatened with eviction. In an effort to delay facing the music at home, he heads to a local bar and encounters an old friend (Ethan Embry, Empire Records). The two friends are roped into a round of drinks by a charismatic and obscenely wealthy stranger (David Koechner,Anchorman 2) along with his mysterious wife (Sara Paxton, The Inkeepers). The couple engages the two friends in a series of innocent dares in exchange for money over the course of the evening, with each challenge upping the ante in both reward and boundaries. It seems like easy and much needed money, but the couple’s twisted sense of humor pushes just how far Craig and his friend are willing to go for money and cheap thrills.
As soon as I saw the list of crew members that helped to bring Cheap Thrills to fruition, I knew I was going to love it. I’m a huge fan of Adam Wingard, and his style seems to rub off on his friends, and those he tends to work with. Couple that with the exceptional cast, and I was instantly on-board, despite the plot summary sounding derivative of several lesser films. Cheap Thrills played at Toronto After Dark this year, and as some of you might be aware, Jeff and Heather were there to take it in with a crowd, and I’m insanely jealous that I had to miss that. This was absolutely one of the best genre films I saw in 2013, and I would be shocked if it didn’t land pretty high on my end-of-the-year list. The story is simple, and honestly, it has been done several times before. The difference is, this time it has been done extremely well. Just recently, a similarly themed movie was being touted by some, Would You Rather?, and while I didn’t find that to be a terrible film, compared to Cheap Thrills it is far less effective, and far less competently crafted.
Cheap Thrills follows Craig(Pat Healy), a loving husband and father, suffering financial difficulties. After being let go from his job on the day he finds an eviction notice pasted to his front door, Craig runs into a friend from his past, and the two meet a couple, played by Sara Paxton and David Koechner, tossing money around the bar in search of company and a good time. As time progresses, the stakes are raised, competition becomes violent, and the wealthy couple’s darker motives begin coming to light. One thing that makes Cheap Thrills far more interesting than other movies that have tried this type of storytelling, and ultimately failed, is that these aren’t random strangers thrown in a room together and forced to compete. These are old buddies, reunited for the first time in five years, with history. In Would You Rather, the logic fails because of course the majority of people put into that situation would choose self-preservation over self-sacrifice. But, what if the person you are competing with is someone that was once a huge part of your life?
I found it much easier to identify with the characters in Cheap Thrills, both because of the exceptional performance from all involved, especially Ethan Embry, who wowed me with what I consider to be one of his best performances ever. But the writing is also extremely solid as well. The director, E.L. Katz, who some of you know as a writer and producer in the world of Adam Wingard films, wears his influences, and the lessons he’s learned from colleagues prominently displayed on his sleeve. As much as it feels like parody to say things like this for me, Katz, if he continues to direct, is definitely a newcomer worthy of keeping track of. Now that that bit of cliche is out of the way, I promise you I won’t make a Jaws comparison.
At the 2013 SXSW film festival, Drafthouse Films picked up the theatrical, video on demand and home video distribution rights to Cheap Thrills. It is stated that the film will be released at a minimum of 20 markets, which is not surprising. For most of us, this means there is slim to no chance that we’ll be able to see this with a crowd. But, that also means that prior to, or at the same time as the theatrical exhibition, which is slated for “Spring 2014″, we will undoubtedly get a premium/digital VOD release as well. I hate hyping movies up for people who currently have no way to view it and come to their own conclusion. Several times in the past, I’ve been guilty of this, and ruined the genuine enjoyment a friend or colleague might have had otherwise from a great film. But, I cannot end this review in any other way than to recommend all that may be reading, to go out of your way to see Cheap Thrills when you have the chance. This film will definitely make its way onto my top of the year list, and it managed to do so with me already having extremely high expectations before pressing play.
Cheap Thrills is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Drafthouse Films and Cinedigm. The title, as with most Drafthouse titles, features a reversible cover, with the theatrical poster on one side, and a nifty little illustrated poster on the other. The film is shot digitally, and looks fantastic. It features a 1080p, AVC encoded video transfer in 2.44:1. The picture is often dark, but it is evident that it is purposeful, with so many neutrally-lit indoor locations, and the lighting choices. This is definitely the video exhibition of the film that I was hoping for from a home video release. The lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is largely front-channel-heavy, but the sound is as crystal clear as one could expect. The extras on the disc are well worth the purchase. There is an audio commentary with E.L. Katz and Pat Healy, as well as a beefy 45 minute making-of documentary. There is also a featurette about Cheap Thrills at the 2013 Fantastic Fest, as well as the standard booklet that usually comes with a Drafthouse Blu-ray, which includes some interesting behind-the-scenes stories about the production of the film. Cheap Thrills is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Drafthouse films and Cinedigm. You may purchase your copy here.