Sitting in the theatre on the last night of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival is bittersweet. While one week is the perfect duration for a genre festival that pushes the wee hours of the night, it’s still tough to say “goodbye” to an event that almost always delivered on quality.
The last day of the festival ended with the dark comedy Cheap Thrills and acclaimed thriller Big Bad Wolves – which also happens to be Quentin Tarantino’s favourite film of the year so far.
My final stretch only consisted of one short film and the feature that followed it. And, it was a great note to end this year’s run on.
First, the Canadian short:
Remember Me (DIR. Jean-François Asselin)
Jean-François Asselin has a lot of smart things to say about those who constantly seek attention in public or over social media by being incredibly needy or obnoxious.
The reason as to why our lead character feels the need to constantly be in everyone’s thoughts is farfetched at first (even given the silly nature of the short), but it’s easy to buy into. When the satirizing comes into play, movie goers will find it very easy to go with Asselin’s film.
It’s funny, but not for those who find juvenile behaviour annoying. Remember Me, simply put, won’t be for that crowd. The film does push more buttons as it progresses and gets darker as more jokes are cheekily aimed towards the misfortunes of other people.
I never found Jean-François Asselin’s short to be mean spirited in a way that made me start hating it because of its willingness to poke its audience so often. Remember Me has a lot of admirable audacity to go the places it does.
Unfortunately, the laughs and the sharpness are muddled by a bloody finale that feels as if it’s only there to cater to those key gorehounds in the audience. It was one of those rare times in the short where I wanted Asselin to reel back on its aggressiveness and get back to making a hilarious statement about the inner workings of an attention whore.
Cheap Thrills (DIR. E.L. Katz)
To state the obvious, the best thing you can say about a gutsy movie like Cheap Thrills is that it does everything right. Cheap Thrills is one helluva knockout of a dark comedy.
After being let go from work, Craig (played by Pat Healy) grabs a drink before heading home and telling the bad news to his wife. After running into an old burnout buddy from high school (Vince, played by Ethan Embry) and then running into a rich couple celebrating a birthday (Colin and birthday girl Violet, played by David Koechner and Sara Paxton), the night turns into a crazy gamble as the couple start to dare the two down-and-outs to challenges for money.
The ultimate questions E.L. Katz’s film pitches is: what will helplessly hapless people do for money? And how, far will they go?
The questions are not setup in such a way that makes average Joes into jackasses who will follow a dangling carrot, no questions asked. It rather establishes this crazy night as two strategists try and map out potential success.
Craig needs the money to pay rent and support his family, while Vince would like money for the sake of having money. Sure, he could start a clean slate away from the dangerous life he lives, but to hold a wad of easy money would be a memory he could cherish for a while.
It’s very important for a filmmaker to be careful with their characters in dicey settings and material such as the stuff found in Cheap Thrills. The minimal cast – consisting primarily of those four aforementioned actors – all do a great job at making their warped performances charismatic and keeping us laughing without coming across as a group of spiteful people who have their moralities all over the board.
Koechner and Paxton may not look like your average couple, but they both do a terrific job at playing two carefree adults who have too much money to burn. Their portrayals are weirdly buoyant and watchable in their own ways (Koechner is more outspoken while Paxton keeps her eyes glued to her cell phone) and they keep us tuned in all the way through – even when the film’s twisted approach to the comedy becomes even more dark.
Healy and Embry are scene stealers (especially when they’re pitted against each other during competitions), bit it’s Healy that really make an impact with his well played role. It’s easy to feel for him. However, it’s just as easy to feel resentment towards him (in a good way).
He’s able to keep sympathy at a distance from the audience. The character of Craig is really whiny and has a weak spine, which makes us believe that he deserves all the potshots that are flying his way. But, he never complains to a point where we no longer care for his company. It’s a tough balancing act for Healy, but he has a super handle on things.
The challenges will have you giggling with each outlandish bet. As the gambles become more life altering, we’re mesmerized in the same way a fifteen car pile up would be able to draw eyes in. The stakes are raised to such an insane plight, that we can’t believe what will happen next.
Cheap Thrills isn’t afraid to go down some loopy alleyways with contorted intentions. That said, it always finds a way to bring the audience along for the fun. It’s got some very quick-witted dialogue amongst the thick tension and its unpredictable story flows quite well offering plenty of shocks.
Cheap Thrills is about as close to perfect as you can get when it comes to dark comedies. That’s a statement I haven’t made in a long time. Through the sea of alleged “messed up movies” with a screw loose that do nothing but shovel hate and cynicism towards an eager audience, Cheap Thrills is that diamond in the rough.
This post ends Wylie Writes’ TAD coverage! A big thanks to Toronto After Dark, the staff, and all the volunteers. See you next year!
For more information on Toronto After Dark, click here!
Read my anticipated Toronto After Dark picks here!
Read my reviews of KIN and We Are What We Are here!
Read my reviews of The Last Video Store and Big Ass Spider! here!
Read my reviews of The Guest and Silent Retreat here!
Read my reviews of Under the Neon Lights and Septic Man here!
Read my reviews of Beasts in the Real World and Evil Feed here!
Read my reviews of Liebe (LOVE) and Found here!
Read my reviews of The Vehicle and The Last Days on Mars here!
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