Continuing this week’s scary movie theme, I watched this one a couple of nights ago, and I’m still on the fence about it. Although described as a black comedy/thriller,  can’t say I found any of it particularly funny, nor very thrilling.

What it is, is pretty damn disturbing.

The film follows Craig on what’s decidedly the worst night of his life: having just gotten an eviction notice and handed a pink slip by his boss, he unwinds at a local bar with his old high school friend, Vince.

(I’ll try to hold off on the detailed spoilers for this one)

The two old buddies have a couple of drinks and catch up. Craig is in no hurry to go back home to his wife and baby son and admit his failures as a family man and provider; Vince is an enforcer for a loan shark who has previously done time, so obviously not a success story either. Despite briefly reminiscing about fun times in the good old days, both exude a level of contempt for one another: Craig had the resources to make something of himself and failed; Vince had no ambition, dropped out of school and became a small-time crook.

In the half-empty bar, they meet porkpie-hat-wearing Colin and his beautiful, sultry wife Violet, who invite them over to their table to help celebrate Violet’s birthday – with a $300 bottle of tequila. Although a bit strange, the couple seems friendly enough (and quite wealthy), and neither of the two down-on-their-luck friends are in any position to turn down free drinks.

snapshot

Colin is in a playful mood: he engages they two friends in a series of innocent dares in exchange for money, and Vince and Craig happily oblige. Off they go to a strip bar, where the dares continue and eventually get them thrown out. They also earn Craig a broken nose, courtesy of the bar’s bouncer. Knocked out and bleeding profusely, Craig later wakes up in a strange home, which is, of course, the rich couple’s residence. Although he makes noises about going home, he is quickly convinced by Vince to stay on, and the two continue to accept Colin’s challenges, as a quick way to make a few bucks.

When Colin retrieves the cash to pay up the winner, Vince catches a glimpse of the piles of money in his safe, figures the rich couple are an easy enough target and suggests to Craig that they rob them. Reluctant at first, Craig finally agrees when he realizes these stupid folks keep more money in their unlocked safe than he and Vince combined make in a year. The two old friends quickly hatch a (very flawed) plan, which is thwarted by Colin, who just happens to be a martial arts expert, and Violet, who pulls a gun from her purse.

When they rich couple doesn’t appear angry or even remotely interested in calling the cops, it’s obvious that they have other plans for Vince and Craig. True enough, the dares they propose increasingly up the ante, both in terms of the nature of the acts to be performed as well as the rewards for the winner.

pinkie

The higher the stakes, the more antagonistic the two old friends become in order to beat each other and win a few hundred, which then become a few thousand, dollars. Vince is mostly driven by greed and the desire for a quick buck, while Craig keeps arguing that he’s the one who needs the money the most, as he has a family to support. They exchange a few digs – and a few punches – and begin to outbid each other every time Colin sets a new challenge, in order to collect the hefty sum.

At no point in the movie do Colin and Violet appear to sadistically enjoy the painful trials they put the two old friends through by pitting them against each other; if anything, they seem interested. Vince and Craig always have a choice: they can leave at any time. They are not the rich couple’s captives; they are merely their playthings, there of their on volition.

The thrill of the game is too much to walk away from, to the point where the two old buddies become downright hostile towards each other, all the way until the movie’s violent conclusion. True to their word, the couple simply pays up and calls the winner a cab home, where he can count his winnings and bask in the glory of his triumph, regardless of the heinous acts he had to perform to get there.

what doesn't kill you

As far as thrillers go, this one gets particularly gory at times, but I feel that the point of this movie isn’t to disgust the audience with the violent images; rather, as the promotional image suggests, it is to see how far desperate people can be pushed when money enters the equation.

It’s also a stark contrast between the haves and the have-nots; although it’s unclear how Colin and Violet came about their fortune, it’s perfectly evident that they’re not shy when it comes to flaunting it, or spending it on a whim. Their life of privilege has spoiled them so much, in fact, that they are willing to part with large amounts of money on a single night of ‘entertainment‘, twisted though their idea of fun may be.

Craig and Vince, on the other hand, are both struggling, despite having followed completely different paths in life: one is a delinquent who didn’t even finish school, the other an educated aspiring writer who never actually made it as an author, but took a low paying job at a car shop to support his family. Even though Craig’s inability to find other means of employment, in spite of his college degree and (supposed) writing skills, is not entirely convincing, it highlights the similarities between the two old friends: both will do pretty much anything to get their hands on a bundle of cash.

Or will they? Vince’s underachieving background and criminal past suggests he’s the most likely of the two to go to extremes in order to win the money; he has no qualms about bending the rules of the game, and he’s not above cheating. It’s easy money; he could use it, but he doesn’t need it as desperately as Craig does.

Craig has nothing to lose when the stakes are raised: he’s about to be homeless, his wife has no income and he just became unemployed as well. He will stop at nothing to secure a future for his family, not when it involves self-mutilation, and not even when it requires murder. Desperation transforms the quiet, introverted Craig into a man obsessed. His recent failures have rendered him despondent, but Vince’s constant reminders of his unfulfilled ambition turn him into a hopeless, wretched, dangerous maniac, who will do absolutely anything to win each escalating dare.


 

Verdict:

The movie casts a harsh light onto the nastier depths of the human psyche: the privileged ennui of the rich couple who either watch the events unfold in a state of apathy (Violet) or in gleeful enthrallment (Colin) as they observe the consequences of their own twisted game, versus the disadvantageous old friends who know no boundaries when the opportunity for a fast buck presents itself.

It’s by no means an easily digestible film, as most of the events taking place are quite shocking, especially the twist ending.

Although not funny by any stretch of the imagination – at least not fitting my idea of comedy (black or otherwise) – the movie succeeds in answering the question, how far would you go?, but also transfers it on to the viewer. Whether we are among the few who identify with the wealthy couple or belong in the majority who find it easier to relate to the underprivileged Vince and Craig, we do ask ourselves that question as we watch the lengths these people would go to, either for entertainment or money.

Yeah, I’d recommend it to a friend.

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