As soon as I saw “Cheap Thrills” at the 2013 SXSW film festival, I knew it was something special. It is a very simple logline, a very direct set-up, but the way it executes the idea is pitch-perfect and it never flinches from the grim path that it sets for itself.
I've heaped praise on the direction by E.L. Katz and the script by Trent Haaga and David Chirchirillo, but one of the things that really makes the film sing is the casting. Pat Healy is one of those guys you've seen in a thousand things even if you're not sure you've seen him in a thousand things, and in the last few years, he's finally started getting the roles where you'll remember him. He was so disturbing in “Compliance” as the guy on the phone who creates the situation, and in “The Innkeepers,” he and Sara Paxton play a pair of clerks who work at a hotel that is reportedly haunted. In this film, Healy plays Craig, a guy who has just lost his job and gotten an eviction notice, and he's not sure how to go home and face his family. He runs into his friend Vince at a bar, a guy he hasn't seen in quite a while, and they drink together for a few, talking about their problems.
That's when Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton) enter the picture, a married couple enjoying a night out and playing a game that they've played many times before. Basically, they start testing the boundaries of both Craig and Vince, seeing what they're willing to do for money and seeing just how much it will take to make them violate their own moral codes. It becomes a harrowing race between Craig and Vince, and both Healy and Embry throw themselves into it with abandon.
Embry, of course, broke through as a young actor in the movie “Dutch,” and he's worked fairly consistently ever since. The persona he had in films like “Empire Records” or “That Thing You Do!” or “Vegas Vacation” is a long way away from the guy he is today, and the first time I ran into him as an adult was when I was in Vancouver for the first season of “Masters Of Horror.” He was in another of the episodes, and there was some overlap for when we got to town and when they left. Right away, he struck me as someone who has made some very conscious decisions to leave behind who he was as a young man. There's a real sense of him simply not giving a f*#k at this point, and that's perfect for this film.
Talking to Healy and Embry together, we covered a lot of ground, but there was one topic in particular that came up that left Embry breathless from laughter, and it had to do with the “Share To Dare” campaign that Drafthouse Films is using to help promote the film. If you aren't familiar with this, check out the official site, and then feast your eyes on what they talked Pat into doing:
Anyone who is willing to do that to promote his movie is a man you have to respect. And even, perhaps, fear.
“Cheap Thrills” is in theaters tomorrow. I dare you not to love it.