UK Release Date: 6th April 2018
Runtime: 93 minutes
Director: Cory Finley
Writer: Cory Finley
Starring: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Paul Sparks, Anton Yelchin, Francie Swift, Kaili Vernoff
Synopsis: Two privileged teenage girls in Connecticut put together a plot to have one of their stepfathers killed, but discover that organising a murder isn’t as easy as they hoped it would be.
The sinister forces lurking behind the elegant lawns of suburbia have powered any number of films in recent years, from George Clooney‘s Suburbicon to the Nicolas Cage freakout fest Mom and Dad. Even more affluent society is the focus of Thoroughbreds, which is the debut feature from playwright Cory Finley, adapting his own play for the big screen. It’s a deeply unusual and visually hazy thriller, which seems to exist in a hermetically sealed world of no troubles, no reality and, most importantly, no consequences.
It’s a film that trades on the central relationship between its two main characters. First, there’s Amanda (Olivia Cooke), who is introduced in front of a mirror, switching between a smile and a deadpan grimace, as if trying out human facial expressions for the first time. She’s a seemingly sociopathic teenager who’s notorious in her wealthy Connecticut community for violently euthanising her injured horse. Her mother has paid Amanda’s former friend Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) to spend time with her, in an attempt to help her become more sociable. Amanda sees through the ruse quickly but, once this hurdle has been crossed, she seems to grow to respect Lily – though their relationship takes a dark turn.
The two central performances in Thoroughbreds are conducted and controlled perfectly. Cooke, who was wasted in Ready Player One last month, is believably other-worldly as someone completely detached from society and prepared to “Steve Jobs my way through life” with sheer innovation. Her deadpan philosophising is a stark contrast to Taylor-Joy’s peppy, preppy persona – the epitome of carefree privilege. It’s the latter who traces the most interesting journey through the movie, as Cooke’s misanthropic apathy rubs off on her. She starts off as almost a caricature of perfection, but soon bonds with Amanda and that bond leads to a plot to murder Lily’s abusive stepdad (Paul Sparks), with the help of a local drug dealer – played by the late Anton Yelchin in one of his final performances.
Cory Finley is defiant in crafting the most unusual of atmospheres in Thoroughbreds. He directs the dialogue in a similar style of clinical deadpan to Yorgos Lanthimos and there are stretches of the movie that are reminiscent of Lanthimos’s brilliant Killing of a Sacred Deer. There’s a strange, inscrutable feel to the whole story, which unfolds with nightmarish grace as Erik Friedlander’s impressionistic score works overtime to unsettle the audience during even the most mundane of moments.
There is a problem though in that the movie seems to lack conviction in following through its themes. Ideas and slices of commentary are thrown in and out of the narrative seemingly at random and Finley introduces a third act monologue that seems to make a point about technological obsession and the ubiquity of smartphones that is never even sniffed elsewhere in the story. This film is at its strongest when it focuses on Cooke and Taylor-Joy and their complex relationship, with a dark sense of humour and an engrossing mystery that, nevertheless, doesn’t quite deliver on the elegant promise of its dreamlike feel.
Pop or Poop?
Cory Finley has crafted an impressive cinematic debut with weird, artsy defiance in Thoroughbreds. Both Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy are perfect in conveying a script that is packed with social commentary and has a rich vein of pitch-black humour, skewering the comical perfection of affluent suburbia.
The story falters in its third act and a final monologue is more misjudged than it is conclusive, but as a performance piece, it’s tough to find fault at all.
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