Film Review: ‘Thoroughbreds’ Gets Twisted In The Best Way

Thoroughbreds, starring Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy, tells the story of a twisted codependent friendship through dead eyes and a plastic smile.

Thoroughbreds explore the ritual suppression of feeling and inevitable explosions that occur behind the social codes of the upper class.  The threat of violence hangs in the air from the start of the film, the opening shot shows a teenage girl with her horse and the next is a close up of a knife.  Suddenly, we switch gears and watch as a BMW pulls into the horseshoe driveway of a massive Connecticut home, though it evokes no feelings of home or family. It feels sterile and like a museum, with all the vintage and soulless trappings one would expect of a wealthy Connecticut mansion.

We watch Amanda (Olivia Cooke) as she wanders the first floor, leading the way as she’s scored by arrhythmic drums and the camera follows close behind.  Amanda is a wealthy and self-proclaimed emotionless teen (aside from feeling hungry or tired) who murdered her horse, Honeymooner.  She cocks her head and studies her blank expression in a mirror.  Flipping an invisible switch, she conjures up a toothy smile and bright eyes and then promptly turns it off.  Then comes Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), whose emotional life is so constricted she’s nearly to the point of shattering, as she walks in her former best friend regarding a samurai sword hanging delicately in Lily’s stepfather’s office (Paul Sparks).

After Amanda calls Lily out for refusing to acknowledge being paid by Amanda’s mother to tutor her, Lily, though initially defensive, drops the polite facade.  She too instantly assumes the same deadpan delivery as Amanda and the two begin their journey of connecting over their lack of connection.  As they spend more time together and their friendship strengthens, Amanda sees the extent of Lily’s restrained hatred for her stepfather.  One night while they browse the wine cellar (because of course, she has a wine cellar), Amanda casually suggests they kill him.  A flat-out refusal on Lily’s part turns into a hypothetical conversation and finally becomes action, with the two hiring a drug dealing sex offender named Tim (a charismatic and electric performance by Anton Yelchin) to do the deed.

Their destructive friendship is predicated on the assumption that the other will give them the thing they feel they need: Lily needing a friend to confide in and help her process her all-consuming feelings and Amanda just needing someone.  Thoroughbreds‘ attention to detail in its characters and production design is what keeps the viewer engaged and on the edge of their seat.  The claustrophobic cinematography ensures the film gets under your skin.  The tension between the absurdity of how this world of the 1% communicates and their blindness to this absurdly minuscule bubble they live in creates an unsettling and disturbingly funny atmosphere.

My only gripe with Thoroughbreds is that it chugs along in the same pace and tone for the entire film.  It’s a solid tone and technically brilliant, but I felt myself waiting for the moment when all hell broke loose and Amanda and Lily unleashed everything the societal hierarchy has taught them to keep inside.  That being said, in the midst films like Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster which highlights the overlooked meaninglessness in the every day, this is a very exciting debut from Cory Finely and I’ll be keeping my eye on what story he creates for us next.

The film hits theaters this Friday.

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