How far would you be willing to go for money? This is a question that frequently arises in films (perhaps too often) and it’s at the center of Cheap Thrills. Would you get punched in the face for $500? Or would you cut off one of your pinky fingers for $25,000? What would you be willing to do for a $250,000 jackpot? Like its title suggests, this is a film has some thrills up its sleeve, but you’ll have to muddle through quite a bit of mediocrity to get there. This isn’t a good film and it’s certainly not a well-made one, but it manages to coast through most of its flaws because it’s always amusing to discover how low these characters will sink for a reward. It’s uneven and messy, but, if you’ve got the stomach for it, fiendishly entertaining.

Craig (Pat Healy) and his wife Audrey (Amanda Fuller) are struggling to stay afloat. They’re having a hard time raising enough money to support their young baby and they’ve just received an eviction notice on their front door. If they are unable to raise $4500, they’ll be living on the street in a week. Craig also gets fired from his job as a mechanic, which sends him into a state of depression. He decides to spend some time at a bar to drown his sorrows, where he runs into his old high school buddy Vince (Ethan Embry). Eventually, these two guys begin having a drink with Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton), a married couple with too much money on their hands. It’s Violet’s birthday and Colin wants tonight to be special, so he begins offering dares to Craig and Vince and paying them handsomely for whatever dares they’re willing to complete. The dares start off easy enough, but as the amount of money that is up for grabs increases, Craig and Vince will be pushed into doing things that they wouldn’t have believed they were capable of.

The best part of Cheap Thrills is that it places the viewer into every situation. With each task that Craig and Vince are presented with, I found myself asking, “Would I be willing to go that far?” Most of the time the answer is no, but it’s still intriguing to consider how far you would be willing to push yourself for money. Director E.L. Katz keeps the film moving along at a healthy pace, so too much time is never spent on one single dare. It also helps that the film has a short runtime; too much time spent watching these men degrade themselves could have been more disgusting than it needed to be. This is the directorial debut of Katz and it shows in his visuals. The lighting in practically every scene feels cheap and ineffective, while the cinematography by Andrew Wheeler and Sebastian Winterø feels diluted and dull.

While this may have been intended as a dark comedy, the humor never comes across as well as it should have. This is more a fault of Katz than screenwriters David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga, whose script left plenty of opportunities for laughs. And while the script does rely on some stupid plot reveals, such as the sudden revelation that a major character is a black belt in karate, it’s always amusing even when it shouldn’t be. Perhaps some increased characterization and an explanation as to why Violet and Colin have so much money would have helped flesh the story out a bit, but the increasingly gruesome events kept me interested all the way to the off putting final shot. Despite my enjoyment, I may never want to revisit Cheap Thrills; like most things that are horrible and disgusting, one experience was enough.

Cheap Thrills receives 2.5/4