Shannon Reviews Malik Bader's "CASH ONLY"

I first heard about CASH ONLY when a friend of mine mentioned seeing it at this year’s Boston Underground Film Festival.  When I got around to watching it, I was absolutely blown away by how incredible the acting was, the solid storyline, and the palpable tension from start to finish.  Though CASH ONLY may not be categorized as a true-to-form horror film, it definitely walks the line of what is considered a horror/thriller movie.  Regardless, CASH ONLY is a thrill ride that I was glad to be on!

CASH ONLY is directed by Malik Bader (Street Thief) and stars Nikola Shreli (Hostel Part III) in his first starring role, Stivi Paskoski (The Blacklist), and Danijela Stajnfeld (Anya Karmanova: Euro Spy).  The story centers around Elvis (Nikola Shreli), an irresponsible landlord whose run-down Detroit apartment complex is about to be foreclosed on his bank.  His tenants are behind on rent and he’s knee deep in debt to Albanian bookies.  The only thing that shines a light on his life is his nine-year-old daughter, Lena.  One day, Elvis finds a secret stash of money that an evicted tenant leaves behind and he uses that to get himself back on his feet.  He soon learns that the money belonged to a sadistic head-honcho of a bigger crime ring and when Elvis refuses to give the money back, they kidnap his daughter and hold her for ransom.  Elvis needs to do whatever it takes to come up with the money and retrieve his daughter, no matter who is hurt in the process.

What really sets CASH ONLY apart from other fast-paced thrillers is the incredible acting that is visible within each character.  Nikola Shreli was magnetic and it was hard to pull your attention away from him.  At times you hated him (and you’ll understand why as you watch the film) but other times you found yourself rooting for him.  Is he a good guy?  It depends on where you stand morally, but compared to the other characters, he’s a Saint. Elvis tries to look out for his tenants and tries to be sympathetic to their needs but a person can only take so much and once that straw breaks and desperation comes through, no one is safe.  Does Elvis deserve what ends up happening to him?  No, but the film does a good job of showing how a series of poor decisions and mistakes resulted in extreme repercussions.    

For those who love gore, you will get plenty of it.  Though most of it isn’t seen until the final act, you will be pleased to know that those who deserve it, get it.  I did have one issues with the film, and without giving anything away, I didn’t like how things perfectly fell into place for Elvis towards the end.  But maybe that’s just luck, though it would have to be very very good luck.  Stivi Paskoski did a fantastic job of playing the deranged Dino and I wish we could have seen more of him throughout the film.  I never knew what was coming next with Dino and I love that director Malik Bader made him unpredictable and completely unhinged.  

Overall, I was completely surprised with how well CASH ONLY was.  It’s definitely a white-knuckle ride with very little stops to take a breath.   The story was cohesive and engaging while also giving us some of the backstory as to how Elvis got to be where he is now.  CASH ONLY is more than just a thriller, it shows the struggle that many Americans, especially those that have immigrated here, are facing when it comes to making ends meet and the desperation that those people may feel.  It gives the film a sense of relatability that is not seen in many other movies and holds your attention from start to finish.  I hope CASH ONLY gets all the recognition it deserves because there aren’t many of these films out there that are solid from beginning to end. So if you see this film playing near you, I urge you to check it out and make sure you give it your support!  

CASH ONLY hits select U.S. theaters and on VOD nationwide May 13, 2016.