Thoroughbreds

There’s something cool about going into a movie cold. No trailer. No interviews. No pre-conceived notions. That’s how I got to see Thoroughbreds. Full Disclosure: I did listen to the Film Threat podcast with Thoroughbreds director Cory Finley from SXSW (Available now), but I somehow manage to pass over any story points that may have been discussed.

The film opens in a large upper-class home in suburban Connecticut. Amanda (Olivia Cooke) arrives for her first tutoring session with childhood acquaintance Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy). Lily is the tutor and she is being paid a large sum of cash for her trouble.

The session is awkward and cold. Amanda is somewhat of a sociopath. She is unable to feel emotions and is good at faking emotions when needed. Lily is isolated in her step-father’s home and returned home early from the boarding school she attended.

“…moves quickly and brilliantly to establish Amanda and Lily’s friendship.”

Writer/Director Finley moves quickly and brilliantly to establish Amanda and Lily’s friendship. They start off cold as Amanda’s bluntness and inability to show empathy strikes Lily as incredibly off-putting. Lily, on the other hand, appears to be paid to be Amanda’s tutor and “friend.” As the two confront one another on their true motives, their last-ditch attempt at honestly turns to friendship.

Amada’s condition has made her highly sensitive to identify the emotions in others. She quickly discerns that Lily hates her step-father Mark (Paul Sparks) and we see it in the way they interact. He controls both Lily and her mother Karen (Kaili Vernoff) by belittling and intimidating the two.

Whether intentional or out of curiosity, Amanda asks Lily if she ever thought about killing her step-father. Immediately Lily asks Amanda to leave, but this plants the seed for the rest of the film involving an aspiring con-man, Tim, played by Anton Yelchin in his final performance.

The unpredictable story and smart performances from the lead actors make Thoroughbreds a joy to watch. As Amanda, Olivia Cooke plays the budding sociopath well. You would think that playing a person without emotion would be easy, but the script gives her opportunity to make this character likable and worth rooting for. Anya Taylor-Joy’s Lily is an incredibly complicated performance. Taylor-Joy plays her understated throughout the film, she executes glimpses of what’s going on inside her character and just the right moments.

“…Friedlander’s music just playing mind games…”

I didn’t realize that Anton Yelchin played Tim until the credits. It’s sad to lose such a young talent as Yelchin. Can’t help but feel loss at the heights he would have gone based on his performance as the tough but insecure Tim.

I’ve already mentioned the amazing script by Cory Finley. It’s smart and constantly moves in unexpected and believable directions. Amanda and Lily are two very different individuals but intertwined together in a dark and beautiful way. Great character development.

I started by saying that I went into this film cold. Erik Friedlander’s music just playing mind games with me. I was expecting a young adult drama (which it is) but from the get-go the music led me to believe this might be a horror film. Friedlander’s choices constantly keep you off balance as the story plays out.

Do yourself a favor and see Thoroughbreds, especially if you like to see something new. Like the best candy in the world, the story is darkly sweet.

Thoroughbreds (2018) Written and directed by Cory Finley. Starring Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Anton Yelchin.

4 out of 5 stars

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