‘Cheap Thrills’ Is a Brutal Horror Comedy [Watch]

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Cheap Thrills

Welcome to The Overlooked Motel, a place where under-seen and unappreciated films get their moment in the spotlight. I hope you enjoy your stay here and find the accommodations to be suitable. Now, please take a seat and make yourself comfortable. I have some misbehaving guests to ‘correct.’ 

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I am pleased beyond words to be back at The Overlooked Motel after a brief hiatus last month. To commemorate the occasion, I have a pitch-black horror comedy recommendation in store for you. Today’s pick features an impressive cast of characters, a hefty helping of class commentary, and a morbid sense of humor. I’m talking about E.L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills.  

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The film follows Craig (Pat Healy), a father and husband on the brink of financial ruin. He’s mere days from eviction and has just lost his job. After his final shift, Craig stops at a local watering hole to drown his sorrows and prolong sharing the bad news with his wife (Amanda Fuller). At the bar, Craig runs into Vince (Ethan Embry), a childhood friend he hasn’t seen in several years. Craig and Vince spend a moment catching up and then get friendly with Colin (David Koechner) and his beautiful wife, Violet (Sara Paxton). Colin is a massive tool with far more wealth than common sense. Bored with money to burn, Colin begins compensating Vince and Craig in exchange for their cooperation in increasingly outrageous requests. The tasks he puts before the pair begin innocuous enough, but quickly escalate to the point of being violent and dangerous. 

Cheap Thrills functions perfectly well as a brutal horror comedy and can be enjoyed solely on that basis. But there is more to the film than immediately meets the eye. There is an astute level of class commentary contained within. The nouveau riche Colin flaunts his wealth like it’s going out of style and uses Craig and Vince like playthings put on earth solely for his amusement. He pits lifelong friends against each other, showing no remorse for the fractures he’s causing in their relationship. Colin has no empathy and no concern for the plight of the working class. It’s quite apparent he doesn’t even see the men as living things. Like so many ultra-rich people, Colin has no desire to use his substantial fortune to make the world a better place. His finances insulate him from reality, giving him a skewed perspective on almost everything. 

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Colin serves as a commentary on the callous nature of the financial elite that remains just as relevant today as it was upon the film’s initial release in 2014. People like Jeff Bezos could end world hunger by writing a check. Yet, the Amazon executive occupies his days planning trips to space. Colin is a crasser example than Bezos, but he very much embodies the kind of detached and oblivious perspective of the uber-wealthy. 

Pat Healy’s Craig serves as a perfect counterbalance to Colin. Craig is the epitome of a working-class guy trying to get by. Healy was a smart choice for the role. He is one of the most versatile actors of his generation, a true chameleon, fully becoming any character he plays. There is real nuance to his craft. Here, he is plenty believable as a nice guy who has fallen on hard times. It’s heartbreaking to watch him humiliate himself in a misguided attempt to keep his family afloat. But Healy gives the film a much-needed emotional core. 

Aside from social commentary and killer characters, Cheap Thrills also possesses a brutal sense of humor. The comedy is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but the situations in which the core cast find themselves frequently border on darkly comedic. If you have an appreciation for the absurd, you’ll surely find humor in this horror comedy. 

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My sole negative critique of the film is that Colin and Violet’s home isn’t especially convincing as the kind of palatial dwelling two rich idiots would inhabit. We don’t see a lot of the domicile, probably because it isn’t nearly as fancy as we are meant to believe. But independent filmmaking requires ingenuity. And Katz mostly makes the proceedings work despite a meager budget. So, that’s a minor critique and one I’m more than willing to look past. 

All things considered, Cheap Thrills is a killer horror comedy tinged with viscera and class commentary. If you are keen to check the film out, you can find it streaming on Peacock, Plex, and FreeVee as of the publication of this post. 

That’s all for this installment of The Overlooked Motel. If you’d like to chat more about under-seen and underrated films, feel free to hit me up with your thoughts on TwitterThreads, or Instagram

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