Thoroughbreds is an intriguing, enigmatic and elegant crime drama thriller that recalls Funny Games, American Psycho, Fierce People and Heathers. The film encounters two upper-class teenage girls in the process of rekindling their childhood friendship. While their reunion seems unsteady in light of recent events, they soon discover a way to solve both of their problems.
Thoroughbreds is directed by Cory Finley, who shows remarkable composure and restraint for such a young writer-director. Ordinarily, this kind of thriller would cave in to the temptation to overplay the violence, coarse language and even stylistic elements. Whether taking notes from Funny Games, which expertly leverages the power of imagination, or taking his own craft to the next level of maturity – he holds back. The result is all the more surprising based on the primary focus on its teenage co-leads. Having been at the helm of the equally impressive and thoughtful Bad Education, starring Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney, Finley has a bright future ahead of him.
Olivia Cooke and Anja Taylor-Joy are Amanda and Lily, two kids from families wealthy enough to own horses. Starting on shaky ground with Lily serving as a tutor slash friend to Amanda, the two move past niceties onto a frank anything-goes relationship. Having a stigma attached to a criminal act of apparent cruelty, Amanda’s difficulty at expressing emotion reflects a leverage point for Lily. Struggling to come to terms with the new and overbearing father figure in her life, the two try to coerce a known felon into silencing him.
Cooke and Taylor-Joy have natural chemistry, which underscores their history as friends who drifted apart. Reuniting, relearning and rediscovering their commonground, it’s not long before their raw honesty becomes the new currency. Both co-leads have fascinating faces, which makes Thoroughbreds captivating from a visual and performance perspective. Cooke is excellent as the emotionally-stunted Amanda, reminiscent of Alicia Vikander, yet wilder and more difficult to decipher. Best known for Ready Player One, she’s an in-demand actor thanks to performances like this one. Taylor-Joy is best known for Morgan and The Witch. Her unique features have made her a versatile asset to any film and she delivers with cold vigour as Lily.
“What? I have loads of photos of me without my phone…”
Thoroughbreds is one of Anton Yelchin’s last appearances and the film is dedicated to him in memoriam. Yelchin plays a lowly drug dealer and small time criminal with aspirations of turning his business into a full-fledged cartel. Charming in spite of his character’s glaring flaws, it’s always a pleasure to see him perform. His inclusion in Thoroughbreds recalls one of his earlier roles in Fierce People opposite Donald Sutherland.
Thoroughbreds upholds its name by aiming for cinematic purity. Alluding to incidents instead of splaying them open on screen, it avoids gratuitous violence opting to keep things more cerebral. The screenplay is intelligent, thought-provoking, unsettling and poetic as its jilted co-leads find their own gauge of morality. Their dialogue has a spontaneity to it with some terrific and haunting interactions as the spring-loaded trap readies. Finley doesn’t try to over-explain his characters, which leaves things a bit more enigmatic and vague.
What’s probably most refreshing about Thoroughbreds is that it’s so unpredictable. Defying the urge to go full tilt, it skates around thriller tropes as if purposefully toying with the audience. It’s much more subdued than Funny Games but operates in the same psychotic space where humans are simply pawns. Set against a mansion, which like many horrors becomes a character itself, the labyrinthine monument to wealth further layers the prickly drama’s innuendo. Thoroughbreds is cold, calculated, elegant and driven by strong performances. While the lack of story spoon-feeding is refreshing, it does leave with an equal number of haunting, possibly frustrating, unanswered questions.
The bottom line: Intriguing