Thoroughbreds review Anya Taylor-Joy Olivia Cooke Anton YelchinYear: 2017
Director(s): Corey Finley
Writer(s): Corey Finley
Region of Origin: US

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: n/a
Digital, Color, 90 mins

Synopsis: Two upper-class girls resort to murder. (Source)

Who knew murder could be so fun? Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds is wickedly entertaining from start to finish, a clever little murder yarn with an electric rhythm and mischievous wit. Imagine a blend of Sofia Coppola’s existential angst with the burn-the-world swagger of classics like Heathers or Jawbreaker – that’s just scratching the surface. In addition, Finley’s film also has the distinction of being totally unpredictable, keeping us on edge as it deconstructs the gulf between social privilege and those who live a measly life doing the bidding of those higher up the food chain. Pulsing with style and anchored by impeccable lead performances, Finley’s debut is a firecracker that’s compulsively watchable and finds heart from a genuinely bleak premise.

The story sets its sight on two suburbanite teenagers who are numb within their upper-class upbringing. Amanda (Olivia Cooke) has just committed a horrid transgression but remains apathetic towards her tarnished reputation. Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) is unable to move past a recent loss, leaving her silently reeling behind a brave face. After Amanda’s mom pays Lily to tutor her daughter, the two old friends are thrust together after growing apart as kids, but soon realize that only they can see each other for who they really are. An offhanded remark sends the pair down a rabbit hole, contemplating a murder plot that would have major implications for Lily. Soon repressed emotions turn into planning, and two seek out a local two-bit drug dealer (Anton Yelchin), looking to coarse him into doing their bidding. Before they realize it, they’ve set off a tragic chain of events that’ll change the course of their lives forever.

Thoroughbreds review Anya Taylor-Joy Anton YelchinDespite its flashy style and a constantly shifting plot, the film’s center is a gripping relationship that’s powerfully candid and intimately raw. Amanda and Lily feel wholly relatable despite their prestigious upbringing, and their unguarded confessions reveal painful truths about the effects of social strata, keeping up with the status quo and general teenage anxieties – or the lack thereof. Finley’s dialogue is colorful and sharp, and stars Cooke and Taylor-Joy deliver their lines with deadpan absurdity. In fact, most of the film feels more like a hang-out session rather than a heist plot, which contributes to complete unpredictability and subverts genre tropes to focus on sly character dissection. In the end, the film doesn’t ever go where you want it to and is better for it, lined with Finley’s original voice and measured direction that falls on the side of devastating reflection rather than sugary sentiment.

As the film is a product of its two leads’ chemistry, it’s Cooke and Taylor-Joy who carry everything on their backs with ease. Cooke’s Amanda is masterfully wry but also very keen. She’s the film’s main force of chaos, yet her character feels like she has a better handle on everything than most. Cooke’s subversion of her madness makes her character feel sane in a world of culture vultures and those too absorbed with themselves to really pay attention. There’s a genuine humanity within her that makes the story float. Taylor-Joy’s Lily is a great foil to Amanda. She’s twice as repressed and because of it, gasping harder for air. There’s a lot of nuance to Taylor-Joy’s performance, with the actor communicating more through what she doesn’t say. Together, the two are irresistible, coming together through unlikely synergy.

Thoroughbreds review Anya Taylor-Joy Olivia CookePerhaps the most unintentionally tragic thing about the film, however, is Anton Yelchin’s Tim. Yelchin plays the neighborhood loser, selling drugs to underage kids with low-level aspirations and even less self worth. Regardless of how dire that sounds, Yelchin is actually one of the film’s biggest bright spots, perpetually evoking a deer-in-headlights stare and giving us some of its funniest moments. It’s so exciting to see him have such a memorable presence, but also sad to remember that we won’t get to experience these talents any longer. As one of his final works, though, what a way to go out.

Thoroughbreds has plenty of bite, painting a picture of the real walking dead, a society choosing to deal with pain through self-centered apathy. Still, Finley’s film is anything but icy, finding the root of such a widespread dilemma and lending empathy to his budding sociopaths. The results are surprisingly tender and touching, no matter how bleak and horrifying Amanda and Lily’s actions are. What we end up with are two anti-heroines whose search for what money can’t buy is wrapped within a solid directorial debut that sizzles with originality.

SG