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Cheap Thrills and The Art of Villainy

September 16, 2014

cheap thrills

There are some minor spoilers in this post.

I love not knowing the motivations of cinematic villains. In order for a villain to be effective they have to be surrounded by mystery. There is fear in the unknown and learning backstories alleviates fear. The prequels and remakes of today have wrecked the mystery of bad and destroyed the urgency.  I love urgency in horror films, and when creators are explaining Michael Myers childhood the urgency disappears. I don’t want to know how Leatherface became a skin wearing chainsaw lover. Do you care that Freddy might be misunderstood? Horror and thrillers work best when they exist in a primal state of mystery, urgency and doom.

Insidious is an example of a film that blends mystery, urgency and doom into a glorious low-budget dreadernaut. I loved Insidious and thought the red demon was scary as sh*t. He was a mean machine of mystery who operated on another level of jerkyness. He remains scary because the creators didn’t feel an urge to explain his backstory while giving him a name like Toby (Thanks Paranormal Activity).

red guy insidious

My favorite character in The Dark Knight trilogy was The Scarecrow. He had no backstory or explanation. All you know is that he works for Ra’s al Ghul and is respected enough to be judge, jury and executioner in Bane’s new world. He was a pain in the ass for Batman and appeared in every film. While Joker and Bane were making things burn, Scarecrow was working his small racket. Put him in jail and he will escape. Shoot him with a taser while he is riding a horse and he will survive. I like him because he has no motive.

What I love about the Cheap Thrills villains can be summed up in Chuck Klosterman’s book I Wear the Black Hat. In the book he explains a villain as “knowing more than you, but not caring.” They plan on wrecking people’s lives and are sorta nonchalant about it. They know how to draw people in and hope that something bad happens. Most importantly, you don’t know anything about them. The characters are left open for interpretation and that is why I like them so much.

Have they worked together before? Is he trying to please her? Who do they call at the end? How do they stay so calm? Who cleans it up? Why are they holding hands during the fight? Why does she show humanity?

Cheap Thrills bad guys

They are not looking for world destruction. They just want some Cheap Thrills and small time chaos. The performances are layered and they leave you questioning what their motives were. One is quiet while the other is the ringleader. If you watch the film you notice that Sara Paxton and David Koechner are constantly texting each other. Nobody knows what they are texting but they must be formulating a plan. Is the night improvised or are they carefully guiding the men towards eventual death?

David Koechner is perfect for the movie because his larger than life persona is suitable for the role. He needs to be the ringleader that can corral unwitting victims. There is intelligence beneath the loud persona and that makes the character more devious because it is a well rehearsed shtick. Sara Paxton is equally as good because you see the intelligence beneath those black eyes. She plays a vapid cell phone addict who is quiet for a reason. Without her the game couldn’t escalate. Throughout the film she nurtures the characters and her presence balances out Koechner’s brashness.

Cheap Thrills leaves you with questions.  It is intense yet doesn’t bombard you with violence. You are not burnt out and it works on all levels. Cheap Thrills is a nasty little film that is incredibly well done. It walks a tight rope of violence and depravity yet never wavers. It doesn’t show you much yet gets burnt in your memory.

Watch Cheap Thrills. Appreciate the bad guys. Never get involved in an escalating game of dares whilst drunk.


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