E.L. Katz‘s black comedy thriller Cheap Thrills is finally hitting theaters this week. Starring Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, David Koechner and Sara Paxton, the film follows two high school buddies in serious need of cash, who magically run into a rich couple looking to have some fun. Cheap Thrills is more than just a bloody thriller, it’s a film with a message. But that message never gets in the way of the fun.

The Players

  • Directors: E.L. Katz
  • Screenwriters: Trent Haaga, David Chirchirillo
  • Cast: Pat Healy, Sara Paxton, Ethan Embry, David Koechner
  • Cinematography by: Andrew Wheeler, Sebastian Winterø
  • Music by: Mads Heldtberg

The Plot:

Craig (Pat Healy), is an auto mechanic who loses his job. He is unable to pay his rent and after seeing the eviction sign, he goes to a bar, where he meets someone from his old high school, Vince (Ethan Embry). A rich couple, Colin and Violet (David Koechner and Sara Paxton), give them money for completing certain tasks. The tasks are simple at first, but they later become violent.

The Good:

  • The Message/Comedy: The message here is quite clear: how far are you willing to go for money? And with every dare, Cheap Thrills answers that question. And yes, the dares are a lot of fun. The game starts off a bit weak and simple (drink a shot, talk to a girl at the bar), but that’s part of the fun. Scribes Trent Haaga and David Chirchirillo ease us into the game, until suddenly the cheap dares are long gone and the stakes are much higher. And all the while Cheap Thrills manages to be funny, without actually being a comedy. The actors play it straight, and as a result, their actions just come off as hilarious. 
  • Ensemble Cast: Katz brought together an exciting group of actors, and gave them each a chance to play a part they don’t often get to. Healy and Embry are excellent in their ambitious roles. Both of these guys dive into their performance like they have nothing to lose, sort of like their characters, who are desperate for some cash. Healy is the main man here. He plays a quiet guy, but as the film continues, the intensity dwelling within his seemingly quiet character breaks free. Koechner is perhaps the biggest surprise. His Colin is totally insane, but he doesn’t aim for laughs, and that makes him hilarious in a very subtle way. He’s sinister and shameless – making Craig and Vince go against each other for fifty dollar bills. Things do get more violent once $25,000 are introduced though, obviously. Paxton, who plays the psychotic Violet, doesn’t say much, but having her around adds mystery to every scene.

The So-So:

  • Neat Ending: In the end, the scribes chose to wrap everything nice and neat, which is an odd choice for a film that is so messy and loaded with blood and violence throughout. We should clarify that Healy’s character, Craig, does go through a dramatic change (and his arc is intriguing). He’s hardly recognizable by the end of the film. But as far as the narrative goes, the ending is tidy, and a lot of questions are left unanswered, which can be a good thing (but also confusing at times).


The narrative is brilliantly executed, unfolding one terrifying dare after another. Though the real excitement kicks in a bit late in the film, as far thrillers go, Cheap Thrills is top-notch, and even more so because of its insanely low budget.

The Rating: 8.5/10

Cheap Thrills will open in theaters March 21, 2014.

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Will you be watching Cheap Thrills?