Cheap Thrills is an ungainly mashup of grisly horror, blokey comedy and muted morality; it’s like the intersection on the Venn diagram of Jackass and Would You Rather? The conceit is bone-simple: dude (Pat Healy) is down on his luck; fired, broke, family at home. Meets up with an old friend (Ethan Embry) at a bar; they have a few drinks together. The pair are pulled into the orbit of a couple (David Koechner/Sara Paxton) who use a seemingly-endless stack of hundreds to draw them into a series of escalating dares. We begin with harassing waitresses and strippers, but before long before the dares descend into defecation, violence and worse.
There’s potential for Cheap Thrills to be a great film, yet I found myself disappointed. The tone of the film seems off: it’s subdued – visually almost monochromatic – like a horror movie slowly accumulating dread (but without the dread). Rather than a giddy night out slowly turning terrible, it’s tonally consistent and, therefore, often tedious. The bigger problem is that for a morality tale, its protagonists simply aren’t especially moral; any objections raised evaporate as the dollar amount increases. Without genuine conflict, Cheap Thrills ends up bereft of any actual thrills.