THOROUGHBREDS

If there’s one emotion a lot of people don’t like to feel while watching a movie, or just in general, it’s feeling uncomfortable. Nobody wants to feel that way. We watch movies to escape and make us feel good, right? Well, some do. I love a feel-good movie as much as the next guy, but I’ll take any emotion the filmmakers will throw my way. For example, I love feeling uncomfortable when watching an effective horror film. It means the filmmaker broke through my comfort zone and really started affecting my mood. Even better if they can make me laugh through it all, too. I may be uncomfortable, but if the narrative is engaging enough, it can make for a very memorable experience. 

Thoroughbreds follows the selfish and naïve Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), a high schooler living a very pampered and generally carefree life. She starts tutoring her classmate and former best friend Amanda (Olivia Cooke), which begins to rekindle their friendship. After being apart for so long, they learn some new things about each other, such as Amanda being a sociopath who experiences no emotions. That doesn’t mean she’s a bad person, though, but Lily doesn’t care. If there’s one thing Lily isn’t happy about in her life, it’s Mark (Paul Sparks), her total jerk of a stepdad. As he seems to make Lily’s life a living hell, she realizes the benefit of having a psychopathic ally and suggests that they murder him. Realizing all of the problems this could cause down the road, Amanda tries her best to talk Lily out of it.

Some films are all about the mood they’re supposed to make you feel and Thoroughbreds is all about the mood. For a film that pretty much consists of nothing but a couple of girls sitting around and chatting, I was surprised that I pretty much found myself on the edge of my seat from the opening frame. There’s this underlying tension throughout, and not just because of the darkness of the subject matter, but because of how everything is presented. The camera is almost a character itself, often dollying and zooming around, framing the action in an uncomfortable, sometimes even unnatural ways. The musical score is extraordinarily simplistic, but extremely effective. Loud percussion sounds and eerie string plucking perfectly accentuates this uncomfortable atmosphere. It’s not always this tense, though, with many moments of levity from the bizarre and dark comedy. There’s a lot of deliberation on how the two will kill Mark, which has them cross paths with a man-child of a drug dealer played by the late, great Anton Yelchin in one of his final roles.  He’s fantastic as always, bringing a lot of energy and laughs to the table. It’s sad to see him go.

This is writer/director Cory Finley’s film debut, who primarily has a background in theater. Considering how vastly different the two mediums are, he’s made quite an impressive jump to the celluloid world.  It’s all visually splendid and very tense, but his script is also incredibly tight and well written. It’s quite simple,with hardly any subplots or superfluous characters, Finley making great use of “show, not tell”. It’s just about these two people, how they figure out this dilemma together, and how this dilemma shows their true colors. It’s a common trope to have your psychopathic character be the evil one simply because it’s easier, but Amanda is the most pragmatic character in this story. Since she’s not shackled to her emotions, she’s free to logically analyze a situation from all angles, seeing both the good and the bad. Her main objection with murdering Mark isn’t because she feels guilty, but because it means they’ll likely be caught. While she doesn’t have any emotional connection to Lily’s plight, she understands what she wants and how those wants may not work out. Olivia Cooke is wonderful, imbuing her completely emotionless characters with a lot of depth. While she speaks her mind, there’s something behind her eyes that make you think she’s up to something. A perfect mixture of off putting and endearing. 

The real monster of the story is Lily, played by a fantastic Anya Taylor-Joy, one of my favorite up and coming actresses. Unlike Amanda, she has all of her emotions, but that doesn’t mean they’re in check. Anybody can understand why she’s frustrated with her living and parental situation, but they should also be able to understand how self-centered she really is. Almost every time we see Mark is through the point of view of either Lily or Amanda, which always paints him in an unsympathetic light. About halfway through, I found myself thinking, “Yeah, he’s an asshole, but he certainly doesn’t deserve to die.” It’s really unsettling seeing her grow more cold and unstable as it goes on. The big driving force of the suspense isn’t just the question of “Will they, or won’t they?”, but also how this conflict is affecting them, making them learn things about themselves and each other. When Amanda first brings up killing Mark, it’s almost like a joke and their initial discussions and failed attempts are humorous. As the plot moves on, though, it becomes much less funny and much more horrifying. 

Thoroughbreds is certainly not for everybody, but it has pretty much everything that I love about a… well, I’m not sure how to classify this. It’s part thriller, part horror, and part dark comedy all mixed into this unsettling exploration into what truly makes a person “crazy.” While I may not know the exact genre it would fall under, it thrilled me, made me laugh, had me in suspense, and just all around enthralled me from beginning to end. That’s really all I can ask for, no matter how off the wall the subject matter is. 

9.5/10

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