“Cheap Thrills”: The Terrible Things We Do for Love or Money

There's always been something menacing about David Koechner's screen persona, and E.L. Katz's Cheap Thrills may be the first movie to fully exploit that menace. And it's a film very much about exploitation, as obscenely rich Colin (Koechner, taking The Office's Todd Packer to his logical conclusion) and his wife, Violet (Sara Paxton), exploit the desperation of two down-on-their-luck losers, Vince (Ethan Embry) and his old pal Craig (Pat Healy), the latter of whom has lost his job and received an eviction notice in a single very bad day. Meeting in a bar, the rich folks offer increasing amounts of money for increasingly dangerous or degrading dares to the poor folks, and things escalate further when they return to Colin and Violet's home. Though outwardly reminiscent of home-invasion movies like Funny Games or the little-seen Would You Rather, Cheap Thrills weirdly harkens back to the “amoral bourgeoisie preying on the proles” genre out of Europe in the 1970s, like de Sica's The Damned or Pasolini's Salò. (Speaking of Salò, trigger warnings for those sensitive to implied coprophagy and/or definite cruelty to dogs.) It's appropriate enough for a time when the class tensions are strong around the world, and in spite of its occasionally European feel, Koechner makes Cheap Thrills as American as it gets.

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