NZIFF Review - Cheap Thrills and Dial M for Murder
It seems appropriate to lump these two films into one handy review, given how they both encapsulate similar themes.
In Evan Katz's grubby Cheap Thrills, it's Compliance's Pat Healy who's forced to debase himself for money to make ends meet. When Healy's Craig awakes one day, it's all a spiral to hell as debt catches up with him - a young baby, a nice wife and a good home all placed in jeopardy by the fact he can't pay the bills. An eviction notice and a downsizing later and Craig's in a bar, nursing a beer and some sorrows. Then he bumps into Vince, an old school friend not seen for 5 years and it starts to escalate into a simmering pot boiler of have-nots. When the duo meet Colin and Violet, (Sara Paxton and David Koechner) who have cash to splash on a series of silly dares, everything goes to hell in a handcart as social mores and moral depths are plumbed to see how far they'd go for cash. $50 to be the first to down a shot, $500 to hit a bouncer first - all seem like simple moments of what would you do mentality, but that's only the beginning. As the two old school friends begin to face off each other in a desperate game for one upmanship and money in the pocket.
Katz has a way of keeping the thrills going in the film as it spirals towards its inevitable nasty end - sure, you can see what's coming as Vince and Craig debase themselves for cash - and there's a degree of wondering what would you do for that amount of money if it came down to it. But the taut direction as the resentments boil over and the level of tension rises means you're never short of an engagement with this grubby lo-fi film. As a morality tale, it's a fascinating one - a tale of haves and have-nots facing off in an epic social battle. Healy makes his descent believable and a shock at the end packs a real punch - Katz is an expert at making you flip between sympathy and horror for Craig and you may be shocked at how you swing as the film plays out. Cheap Thrills may be lo-fi cinema in some ways, vulgar and depraved, but it's a sure sign that an indie can kick some punch and may make you question exactly how far you'd go if circumstance conspired against you. And to be honest, you may not like the answer to that....
Meanwhile, Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder 3D is all about money as well when it comes down to it. Grace Kelly's ice-cool blonde is the centre of a murder plot when her husband Ray Milland plots to despatch her for cash. But as ever, the best laid plans of mice and men falls apart when one of the details of his plot doesn't conform to the circumstance and a pair of scissors proves the downfall. Add into that, a tautly wound investigation by some truly caricature like police and you're into the world of Hitchcock once again. The 3D's put to effective use here - from the opening titles which leap off the screen to Kelly's initially dazzling red dress, it verges on potentially being gimmicky. But when everything starts to be set in one room, Hitchcock's eye for the technology comes to the fore as the claustrophobia grows and the set comes vividly to life. Sure, some of the dialogue is a bit cornball by today's standards (witness the inspector's declaration that "My Blood was up") and some moments produce more laughs than perhaps were intended, but Dial M for Murder is a cool breezy drink in a festival of cinematic goodness.