Thoroughbreds (2018)

Thoroughbreds (2018)

Taglines: Good Breeding Gone Bad.

Emotionally challenged Amanda and contemptuous Lily reboot their childhood friendship after years of instability and judgment, thrown back together by standardized-test tutoring. When Lily’s icy stepdad, Mark, conspires to ship her off to reform school instead of her dream college, Amanda’s nonchalant quips about killing him suddenly seem enticing. Even as Amanda’s sinister tendencies surface and the girls hatch a plan, the mutual manipulation that has always defined their relationship threatens to derail their ambitions.

First-time director Cory Finley’s impressively stylish and assured filmmaking evokes a high-class world that is simultaneously familiar and strange, dripping with acidic dark wit and a disquietingly eerie score. Finley nurtures and coaxes astounding chemistry out of his talented cast, from the capricious friendship that binds Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, 2015) and Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, 2015), to the unruly vulnerability of Anton Yelchin as their unlikely co-conspirator. Firmly staking his claim as a filmmaker to watch, Finley comfortably basks in the quiet chaos of his characters and leaves behind a beautiful and orderly trail of destruction.

Thoroughbreds is an American drama thriller film written and directed by Cory Finley in his directorial debut. It stars Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin (in one of his final roles), Paul Sparks, and Francie Swift. The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2017. It is scheduled to be released on March 9, 2018, by Focus Features. Principal photography began on May 9, 2016, in Boston, Massachusetts. and concluded on June 5, 2016.

Thoroughbreds (2018)

Film Review for Thoroughbreds

Empathy is weakness and privilege is power. Adjust the quantifiables on those two metrics enough and you end up with the dangerous type of people who can do just about anything and walk away clean. With his razor-sharp and oil slick first feature Thoroughbreds, writer-director Cory Finley has made a pitch black comedy thriller about the perils of unchecked privilege in the hands of two WASPy weirdos and what happens when they decide they want someone gone from the world.

Ex-BFFs Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) have a forced reunion when Amanda’s mother pays Lily an exorbitant fee to tutor and hang out with her daughter after Amanda becomes a social pariah for killing her horse. Inseparable as kids, the duo drifted apart over the years and their reunion is fraught with unspoken tension — until Amanda makes it clear she doesn’t give a fig for propriety, quite the contrast to her prim pal, and severs that tension with blunt force candor. Once the two get fired up, they are a combustible engine for the film, their seriously strange chemistry ensuring that Thoroughbreds courses with energy.

After spending years as a source of droll warmth on Bates Motel, Cooke gets to play the Norman Bates of the pair as Amanda, a young woman entirely without emotions. “It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person,” she explains, “It just means that I have to try harder than everyone else to be good.” But she doesn’t try that hard. She practices her emotions, using “the technique” to cry and rehearsing smiles in the mirror, but she’s reached a point where she’s finished pretending she’s normal.

Thoroughbreds (2018)

Amanda is curious and unflappable, and she’s also a bit terrifying, especially when she’s detailing the gruesome way she executed her horse. It’s only described, never seen, but you get the picture in head-swimming detail and it’s easy to understand why the people of the affluent, pristine town look at Amanda with such fearful disdain. Credit to Finley’s sharp script and Cooke’s charismatic performance, however, because the audience can’t help but be charmed by the budding sociopath even if immediate unease sets in anytime she enters a room.

Taylor-Joy stars as the other half of the sideways duo and after her breakout work in The Witch and Split, she continues to prove she’s one of the most interesting and commanding actresses of a generation. Light flocks to her, the focus somehow seems sharper when it’s steadied on her face; to borrow that hackneyed phrase, the camera loves Taylor-Joy and whatever “that thing” is that makes a star, she’s got it in spades.

Lily is a polished product of pedigree and Taylor-Joy’s measured performance is a perfect counterbalance for Cooke’s brash and outlandish character. If Amanda can’t feel anything, Lily can only seem to feel rage and disgust, even if she keeps it tamped down behind a thick veneer of manners. In particular, her anger as directed at her new stepdad (Paul Sparks), an obscenely wealthy but intolerable living Ken Doll who collects swords, endlessly exercises, berates Lily’s mother savagely, and totally lost patience for his stepdaughter the moment she got kicked out of Andover for plagiarism.

When Amanda and Lily reunite, it’s only a matter of time before they decide he has to go. In Amanda, Lily has a sounding board off which she can bounce an idea, no matter how reprehensible, without judgment and it doesn’t take very long for those ideas to take a distinctly dark turn as her moral reserves are drained in favor of what she wants most — for her shitty stepdad (and to be fair he is very shitty) to just disappear. When they start devising a plan, they reel in the local lowlife drug dealer, played by Anton Yelchin — the final role he shot before his untimely death. Yelchin is fantastic, overflowing with a reservoir of emotion in what lesser actors may have seen as a thankless role. His talent is missed and his talent here is a heartbreaking reminder of his singular quality as a performer.

On all levels, Thoroughbreds is a technical wonder. Finley penned a script driven by snappy dialogue, and it’s no surprise to learn that he originally intended the film as a stage play, but he also directs the shit out of this movie, sculpting a world of immaculate, marble-pillared extravagance and high society propriety. Finley builds remarkable tension with little affect, letting the strength of pace, editing and performance do the heavy lifting. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night cinematographer Lyle Vincent does some fine work helping Finely carve out that precise opulence, and though Thoroughbreds may have its roots in theater, it’s always cinematic. The score is also crucial, a percussive piece that alternates between droning and melodic (though rarely), underscoring the mounting tension with pops and jolts of disjointed percussion.

Thoroughbreds conjures a lot of films to mind — there’s the disaffected wealth of Cruel Intentions, the scheming female bond of Heavenly Creatures, and the irreverent dialogue-fuelled teen drama of Jawbreakers and Heathers. But if Finley’s debut bears the DNA of other teens-behaving-badly cinema past, it’s the distinct qualities and proud uniqueness that make it an effed up tale of friendship for the ages.

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Thoroughbreds Movie Poster (2018)

Thoroughbreds (2018)

Directed by: Cory Finley
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift, Kaili Vernoff, Chaunty Spillane, Leah Procito, Stephanie Atkinson, Max Ripley, Lauren Laperriere
Screenplay by: Cory Finley
Production Design by: Jeremy Woodward
Cinematography by: Lyle Vincent
Film Editing by: Louise Ford
Costume Design by: Alex Bovaird
Set Decoration by: Kyra Friedman Curcio
Music by: Erik Friedlander
Distributed by: Focus Features
Release Date: March 9, 2018