The “worst day of your life” premise is a well-worn one (Falling Down, Groundhog Day), but seldom has it plumbed the depths of desperation and sadism the way Cheap Thrills does. After getting an eviction notice and losing his job, our Charlie Brown–esque protagonist Craig (Pat Healy) goes to a bar to drown his sorrows, where he runs into Vince (Ethan Embry), an old friend he hasn’t seen in several years. As the two play catch-up over a few rounds, they get drawn into the gregarious orbit of Colin (David Koechner), a wealthy man who’s willing to pull out all the stops to celebrate the birthday of his much younger wife Violet (Sara Paxton).
While Colin originally starts off as a fedora-wearing Guy Grand lite, offering money to the first of them to insult rough trade, then a little more for slapping a stripper’s ass, his dares slowly become more and more twisted as he raises the stakes. In the name of the almighty dollar, Craig and Vince continue to play along—or, considered from a savvier perspective, continue to take the bait.
Though he certainly doesn’t reinvent this tried-and-true formula, director E.L. Katz strikes a balance between lingering Lucio Fulci–length shots of disgusting goings-on and economically paced action, lighted by the evil twinkle in Koechner’s eyes. The overall effect will likely linger in the minds of even the most desensitized fans of fucked-up nonsense.