Thoroughbreds (2018) by Cory Finley
Review by Jessica Carr
*This review contains spoilers*
Who needs empathy when you have the money to buy anything you want? I mean, I’m not saying ALL rich people feel nothing for us everyday commoners, but I think that’s what Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds might be saying. The way this dark comedy plays out really might make the audience start thinking twice before hanging out with their privileged friends.
With ease, the film throws us into the upper class neighborhoods of suburban Connecticut. It is clean, pristine and seemingly perfect there. The lawns are well-kept. The cars are expensive and shiny. The mansions are filled with the latest trends in interior design. On the surface, it seems like the ideal place to live life to the fullest without a care in the world. But Thoroughbreds is much more interested in cracking the surface and revealing the rotten core underneath.
This is when we meet childhood friends Lily and Amanda. Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) is prim and proper. Amanda (Olivia Cooke) is blunt and messy. They used to be close friends, but they’ve found themselves drifting apart. The two characters interact and create an uncomfortable tension. It’s quite easy for viewers to find their eyes switching back and forth between the two girls during their conversations. Amanda reveals that she feels nothing and spends most of her time practicing facial expressions and responses. She eventually tells Lily to cut the facade and say what she really means.
From there, the two hatch a plan to kill Lily’s self-absorbed fitness-obsessed stepfather. The friends decide to recruit some help from a drug dealer named Tim (Anton Yelchin), who is blackmailed into helping them execute the plan but backs out at the last minute. Oddly enough, Tim becomes the most sympathetic character in the whole film. There is something about his determination to get out of his bad situation that makes you want to root for the guy. He represents those that cannot stray away from their unfortunate circumstances. It’s too bad that his character is underutilized. He isn’t given enough screen time to really feel like a major part of the film.
Regardless, Yelchin gives an excellent performance in one of his final film roles before his death in 2016.
Once Lily reveals her true nature, the film starts to reach new heights of unsettling. In the end, she plans to drug Amanda, stab her stepfather and then frame Amanda for the murder. Amanda finds out that her drink is drugged, but she still decides to drink it and let the framing happen. She says that she can’t feel anything and that her life is basically a waste anyway. She encourages Lily to go through with the plan. Amanda goes to jail for the murder, and Lily lives her life like nothing ever happened. I have to say that I really enjoyed this ending because it could’ve easily ended with the two girls taking advantage of Tim and getting him to do the murder. However, I think the film is striving for a much more meaningful point as Lily is the one who takes advantage of Amanda.
She is the most privileged of the two and she uses her position of power to get what she wants.
While this is Cory Finley’s debut film, it feels like the work of someone much more experienced. It is obvious that he knew exactly what he wanted to make. Cinematographer Lyle Vincent uses the camera to navigate every dark corner of Lily’s mansion. The camera moves with ease throughout the house as if it knows the space all too well. If you’ve seen the trailer, then you’ve probably heard the off-putting, yet strangely hypnotic, sounds of “Sila” by A Tribe Called Red. The song combines breathing and electronic dance beats to create a disturbing blend of noises that perfectly matches the film’s tone.
I can’t say that I loved Thoroughbreds, but I am sincerely impressed with the effort. I really can’t get the ending out of my head, especially when Amanda is describing her horse overlord dream and we see a brief smile spread across her face. Why would she smile if she can’t feel anything? There is nobody in the room to see her perform the emotion. Now that she is on medication, it is possible that she has actually been properly treated for her mental illness. Which would then mean that Lily took advantage of her mentally-ill friend just so she wouldn’t have to be sent to boarding school.
Privileged narcissists like Lily get away with murder all the time and that is what makes this film truly chilling.