I had one of those very rare experiences watching Filth, whereby when I emerged bleary eyed from the cinema I truly wasn’t sure what I thought of the film. Did I love it or did I hate it? I just wasn’t sure. It was certainly an experience and I wanted to be careful that I didn’t let too many of my biases come in to play (being that I’m a fan of the source material and rather partial to James McAvoy), so it has required an unfounded amount of thought on my part in the build up to writing this review. Perhaps I’m being a tad overdramatic here; it is just a movie after all and one that has received pretty much universally favourable reviews across the board.
Filth is based on Irvine Welsh’s third novel, released in 1998 and widely regarded as one of his best (an opinion that I share). Like much of his material you may be inclined to label it as unfilmable, and would indeed have good reason to do so. Trainspotting remains the sole example of Welsh’s work having been successfully transferred to the screen, and with the attempts to make The Acid House and Ecstasy best left forgotten, Filth is certainly the best attempt since.
Craig (Pat Healy) has a new wife and an infant son but he also owes $4500 in rent, is facing an eviction notice, and just got laid off from his job as a mechanic. Whilst gazing hopelessly into the bottom of a bottle of consolatory beer he bumps into his old friend Vince (Ethan Embry), now an ex-con and a debt collector. After a few beers the pair are befriended by Colin (David Koechner) and his aloof trophy wife Violet (Sara Paxton). Colin likes to flash his cash around and is soon ordering the table a $300 dollar bottle of tequila and paying the barmaid to turn a blind eye to his open drug use. He also likes to make a wager, offering a few hundred bucks to whoever can finish their drink first or get a slap in the face from a woman at the bar. Harmless enough fun at first, but things start to take a sinister turn when Colin insists on taking the night’s festivities back to his place. The wagers become increasingly nasty yet undeniably irresistible to Craig and Vince as the amount of money on the offer also steadily rises.
Cheap Thrills’ main strength is in its unpredictability. Even when you think you know where it’s going it’ll take a left turn and end up somewhere completely different, and you never know quite whether to be amused or disgusted (or both at the same time), or even whether these feelings should be towards the characters and their actions or yourself for taking so much enjoyment in it. The actors all give it their all: Healy is great in a role that echoes his recent turn in Compliance, another great film that examines the lengths people will go to, and Embry is terrifically unnerving as the unpredictable Vince. It is Koechner though who is the real stand out here, and fans of his lighter, comedic work may never be able to look at him in the same way ever again after this. I also liked how the motivations of the characters changed; what initially starts out as being purely for monetary gain will shift to being about the competitiveness of human nature and the innate desire for one-upmanship at the blink of an eye.
Made over the course of fourteen days, Cheap Thrills looks anything but and it’s clearly a labour of love for all involved. I’m not sure if its excessive misanthropy and the levels of violence on show will prove too much for mainstream cinemagoers but I really hope this gets a proper release, and if the reaction of the audience I saw it with is anything to go by it will blow people’s minds. I’m looking forward to seeing what E.L. Katz does next, because if this is anything to go by he is definitely going to be one to watch.