Directed by Cory Finley.
Starring Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks and Kaili Vernoff.
Unlikely friends at school, Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) drifted apart, but are re-united when Amanda’s mother pays Lily to give her daughter tuition. Lily lives with her mother and dominant stepfather Mark (Paul Sparks) who she detests and she discovers in Amanda, who says she feels no emotions whatsoever, a possible solution to her problem.
Saying that a film’s been adapted from a stage play and it shows isn’t usually a recommendation. But not so with Cory Finley’s directorial debut, Thoroughbreds: he wrote the original play and he’s also responsible for the film’s screenplay. The stage version is, apparently, confined to one room while the film casts its net a little wider – the huge garden, a party in another house – but it never moves too far away from the palatial mansion, which is Lily’s home. And the resulting sense of claustrophobia, coupled with the near incarceration felt by the girls themselves, is intensified. It’s all very uncomfortable and uneasy.
And it’s there right from the very first frame, but the movie’s deeply dark side means there’s something unexpectedly enjoyable about it. That first shot shows one of the girls in a dimly lit stable with a horse. What actually transpires takes place off camera, but it doesn’t look good and the soundtrack reinforces that, sounding like the proverbial fingers down a blackboard. It continues in the same vein for the entire film – unsettling, off kilter and scratchy. Yet strangely fascinating.
The two girls at the centre of the story want for nothing, both coming from wealthy families. They’re highly strung in their own ways, like the titular thoroughbreds they’re supposed to be. Amanda says she cannot feel emotions on any level, although she does a more than passable imitation when she needs to, but, to coin a phrase, she’s dead behind the eyes. She even has what she calls The Technique, for making the tears flow. And it’s that cold heart that Lily sees as being the answer to her biggest problem, her unpleasant stepfather. But will she go through with it? Is she so bored and so spoilt that murder could change everything for her and for Amanda? A third party comes into the picture to do the actual deed, local small time drug dealer Tim (Anton Yelchin, in his last movie performance).
The film walks the tightrope of combining a tense thriller with a pitch black comedy. It’s impressive in putting two less than sympathetic characters centre stage, with an equally unlikeable potential victim, yet still maintaining the audience’s attention. And, indeed, never letting up. Unpredictability is the name of the game here, both in terms of the twists and turns in the plot – and the words that come out of Amanda’s mouth.
It also boasts impressive performances from Taylor-Joy and Cooke, who also currently on screen in Ready Player One and seems to have a gift for choosing varied and juicy roles for herself. The two share some of the best scenes in the film: on paper, the idea of them sat conversing on the sofa may not sound like much, but in reality, they’re subtle and full of insight, the scene explaining The Technique being the best. And as the drug dealer with aspirations, Yelchin shows that his demise robbed us of a genuinely edgy talent.
While Thoroughbreds has a tendency to sag in the middle instead of keeping its focus, it manages to regain its composure. And, while it’s not without its flaws, it has more than enough in its characters, visuals and that disconcerting music to keep you watching. Right to the bitter end.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Freda Cooper. Follow me on Twitter.