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In anticipation of the upcoming release of The Cinema Snob Movie, we look at one of Cinema Snob creator Brad Jones's earlier indie films, Cheap. We struggled for a while to decide whether to make this a Dark Humor Highlight but in the end we opted not to since despite the very clear presence of dark humor in the film Cheap is no comedy. No. It is a movie about snuff film makers.
Snuff films, in case you don't know, are films made of actual murders distributed in the underground scene for the entertainment of sick fucks. They are an urban legend featured in several films and games (such as Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines), no one has ever proven that real snuff films exist. Fake snuff films - films of fiction that pretend to be using real snuff footage akin to fake documentaries - are abundant though, being made since the 1970s for the entertainment of not-so-sick fucks. Like us. :)
On to Cheap. This film chronicles the exploits of disillusioned and psychotic/evil (take your pick) film director Jack Stone who sets out to make the first real snuff film in existence. He does so in part because he's not right in the head and in part because porn producer Max Force keeps pressuring him to come up with something "original and artsy". Jack uses his manipulative charm to seduce a pair of teenage runaways to do the actual killings for him and films the murders with the help of a cameraman who's every bit of a sick fuck as Jack himself. Then he sells the footage to the unsuspecting Max who releases them to the public and, upon seeing how popular they are with the audience, tells Jack to make more movies in that style. All this time Max has no clue that the snuff films are real. So you'd think Max Force is going the be the hero. Right?
Well, wrong. And that's where the genius of Cheap lies. In that both the villain (Jack) and the so-called hero (Max) are utterly despicable characters with hardly any redeeming quality whatsoever. On one hand you have Jack who kills people and thinks that it's art. On the other hand you have Max Force who is a conceited jerk, is constantly high, is a complete asshole with his pregnant wife, rapes people in his office, and is in general a greedy cunt. Now, who do you root for?
Obviously the story sets up Max as the hero but his character is just simply so loathsome that it's easy to root for him getting killed at the end as he would most certainly deserve it. So the audience will have a hard time deciding whether or not to get behind Max. That is not to say that he doesn't have at least a handful of redeeming qualities. For one, while at one point in the movie Jack claims otherwise, it certainly seems like Max doesn't condone murder, even if raping people is okay for this asshole. More importantly, Max is defiant. He steps up to Jack despite the odds, not willing to back down, solidifying himself as the most badass character of the film. In contrast, Jack is a manipulative maniac who makes teenage runaways do his dirty work. You could say he, too, has a bit of a redeeming quality in that he protects his actors, but the man thinks that he's fighting to protect art and creativity by making snuff films.
Which brings us to a rather strange element of Cheap. Whether the filmmakers intended this or not, the film comes across as though it carries a satirical message about clichés and avoiding clichés. At one point in the movie Jack states that he and his crew are "pioneers", "originals" who are "still all proving" their "point" but that "one day" they, too, would "all be clichéd". So basically what we have here in Jack Stone is a sick filmmaker who wants to be original so badly that he resorts to murder and thinks of it as art. It's almost as if he is the prime example of what happens when you try avoiding clichés just a little bit too hard. While everyone agrees that overusing clichés leads to shitty, boring, and predictable products (*cough* Avatar *cough*), completely avoiding them can also lead to disaster, or at least to a movie that only people of the same mindset as the director would appreciate. Jack's snuff films can be thought of as an exaggerated, satirical portrayal of what happens when you get overzealous in your efforts to create something original, when you're afraid to use any clichés for fear of not being original enough. Now given the subject matter we're not sure that the filmmakers intended Cheap to carry this satirical message of what happens when you try too hard to avoid clichés, maybe it's just us, but it does add to the insane experience of watching Cheap.
We say "insane experience" here because this is one weird movie. Not only does it have no likable hero, it also features some very inappropriate music during the murders and an over-the-top badass motherfucker of a lead in Max Force whose lines and demeanor are an excellent source of laughter throughout the movie. Not to mention Jack's insane lines. Basically, one finds it very easy to laugh during Cheap despite the subject matter and the tragedy of the murders. There are scenes though that will probably freeze the smile on most people in between two humorous moments, especially the footage of the snuff film from which Max Force learns that the murders in the movies are real. We will not spoil what happens in that particular snuff film, suffice to say that it's the most gruesome part of the movie, and in a sense also one of its highlights as it showcases just how much of a vicious sick fuck Jack Stone really is.
Now this is a low budget independent movie shot on low quality film so don't expect the best picture quality from it, but the truth is that in Cheap it adds to the overall mood of the movie, especially during the black and white snuff film footage. So don't let the low quality video scare you off. Just let the sick world of Max Force and Jack Stone suck you in and take you on a rollercoaster ride of satirical absurdity. This is a very entertaining film for people with an open mind who don't mind the lack of a proper hero. Furthermore the acting is outright outstanding for an independent film, especially lead David Gobble's performance as Max Force, but Brad Jones does an excellent job playing the sinister Jack Stone as well.
One last thing to mention is that Cheap is a remake of a 70s film called Last House On Dead End Street which we haven't seen but the audio commentary of Cheap suggests that the two films are very different. If you have seen Last House you should definitely check out Cheap to see a different take on the conflict between sick directors and asshole producers.
To summarize, we highly recommend Cheap. It's a must see for fans of weird movies and especially for fans of the Cinema Snob. Cheap is available to watch online for free on the website of director Brad Jones at thecinemasnob.com. Go check it out!
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