I started to think about it, and we really don’t get many teen dramas seen through the lens of psychological thrillers. The only one that comes to mind is Rian Johnson‘s excellent Brick, and that’s pushing it. Still, we have a fresh new voice by the name of Cory Finley, who by chance got the opportunity to direct his very first screenplay. Not sure what connections or luck he must have had to get into this position, especially when he cast a trio of powerhouse young thespians, but Thoroughbreds has now entered our storied little world and I figured I give a shoutout to the indie circuit since it’s been a loooong while since we heard the familiar jingle of Indie Art House Corner *cue whimsical tune with children’s cheer track.* So let’s go to where the budgets are low, the concepts are high, and nothing makes sense.
We follow the lives of Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch), two teenagers living it up in an affluent suburb of Connecticut. The pair used to be friends years back, but they start to reconnect following an incident where Amanda brutally euthanized her thoroughbred horse all on her own and Lily becomes fascinated with the fact that Amanda appears to be completely emotionless about the whole ordeal. As their relationship re-develops, Amanda’s sociopathic nature prods Lily into wondering the feasibility of murdering her emotionally abusive stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks). To execute the man, they enlist the help of a strung out drug dealer (Anton Yelchin, in apparently his final role before his unfortunate passing), setting the three characters on a clumsy collision course filled with spite and idiotic mistakes.
And not “idiotic” in a bad way, mind you; the three characters are all shown to be woefully out of their depth when it comes to cold blooded murder even though they all agree they want to carry a plan out. But despite their willingness to do so, not one of them have an iota of a clue of how to go about it without anything going horribly wrong except for Olivia Cooke’s Amanda, who is damn near perfect in this role. Actors tend to portray sociopathic tendencies too “hot,” i.e. giggling with contempt while carrying out heinous acts (hello Jared Leto…again). But Cooke opts to portray a lack of emotion with the level of creepiness that should be utilized; that is to say, she’s fascinating to witness her cold justification for horrendous atrocities. She’s compelling precisely because she very casually deduces the only logical course of action for her friend to take is to murder her stepfather, while also calmly explaining why she herself can’t carry out the task due to her proximity to the aforementioned animal cruelty. So it’s actually completely understandable when Lily takes Amanda up on this insane advice.
Speaking of which, Anya Taylor-Joy truly continues to impress with yet another solid notch on her ever expanding belt. Contrary to Amanda’s character, her Lily is not a sociopath but is nonetheless fascinated and strangely allured by her friend’s disturbing demeanor. Which makes her initial reaction to the murder plot believable by initially dismissing Amanda’s flights of fancy as simply deranged until Lily’s stepfather finally pushes her over the edge to take immediate action. I quite enjoy watching a sharp dichotomy in personality play themselves out on screen, as half of the entertainment comes from watching these two work out logistics and reasoning behind such a radical idea. It keeps me invested as opposed to making the entire cast cold, alien characters without a shred of humanity that turns me off about other Indie art house joints.
Finally, Anton Yelchin is on hand as an entertaining supporting character to the two leads’ murder shenanigans. And as great as it is to watch Yelchin perform one last time, it really got to me we won’t be able to see him wow us again since he had so much potential to give. Thankfully, Thoroughbreds is a fitting swan song for him to go out on, demonstrating his strengths at playing unique characters by playing a strung out loser prone to screwing up royal. These kinds of incompetent scumbags are hard to portray, but they are endlessly fascinating to watch to great success for the film as a whole.
Speaking of which, despite the excellent performances on display, the film itself is a bit sluggish at times. It’s actually ironic the film felt very slow considering it only clocks in at just under 90 minutes flat. But the script does have a nasty tendency to let one or two of its character ramble on for a bit, when what’s being said could have been trimmed down significantly. This might have something to do with the fact the director/screenwriter was primarily a playwright before his debut film; and as I said before, despite the similarities in film and stage, major changes need to be made in order to achieve the best effect. So Cory Finley does utilize some solid shots here and there, but other pivotal moments required a change up in perspective or an adjustment in approach to editing. That being said, this movie isn’t violent at all and yet the script contains some truly grotesque imagery that your mind does the job perfectly well on its own to disturb the ever loving hell out of you.
Still, for a first time filmmaker? As in ever? This is a pretty impressive piece of work. When the script hits, it smashes into your face with the weight of a freight train. When it wants to humor you, you get a good laugh. And when it wants to unnerve you, you genuinely feel anxious to be in the situation the characters find themselves in. Had the second act been cleared up, I would be putting this movie in fierce competition for Best of the Year. As the movie stands, it’s a superbly performed and decently directed effort easily worth a look if you get the chance. Going to give this an enthusiastic…
Like what you see? Don’t forget to like this post and subscribe to The After Lobby! The reviews are also supported through Patreon! Click the link below to find out more!