'Thoroughbreds' Film Review
by Will Lindus
This is Amanda. She feels nothing.
This is Lily. She feels everything.
My name is Will, and I feel as though Thoroughbreds will be one of those films that comes and goes without leaving too much of an impact, which is a shameful outcome for such a delightful pitch-black comedy that satirizes the plight of privileged white girls.
The film follows a pair of childhood friends who have had a strained relationship in recent years and are forced, through parental interference, to reconnect. Amanda (Olivia Cooke) is a sociopath, or someone with a borderline disorder, or maybe a schizophrenic… the film dances in and out of explanations, but all we really can be sure of is that she is emotionally numb and logical to a fault. She is being tutored by Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), an incredibly wealthy girl struggling with the complex feelings of frustration she feels towards her step-father after being told she may not get to go to the boarding school of her choice. Amanda’s cold detachment leads her to an obvious, if grim solution for Lily’s troubles - killing the step-father.
Watching Amanda and Lily scheme in Lily’s expansive multi-million dollar family home, the sounds of her step-father on his rowing machine as a constant reminder of his presence in Lily’s life, it isn’t too difficult to imagine how Thoroughbreds might appear if presented as a theatrical production instead of a feature length film. This is no accident; writer and director Cory Finley originally planned Thoroughbreds as a stage play, but shifted gears and adapted the work for the screen. These sensibilities work remarkably well; the film is mostly confined to the various rooms of Lily’s home, with only a few scenes taking place in other locales. The home feels like a gilded cage for Lily, but never feels stale or familiar to the audience, partially due to the blend gorgeous tracking shots and stationary shots which always provide the most interesting angle for the action.
Thoroughbreds isn’t without its flaws. We spend a little bit of time with both Lily and Amanda’s mothers, and their presence on screen doesn’t really add a ton to the film itself. This could have almost been a four person cast and been more efficient with its time. Likewise, the character of Tim (played by the late Anton Yelchin) is underwritten, with motivations that feel thin and a narrative role that is imbalanced. This takes nothing away from Yelchin, though, who devours the role, outperforming the script.
That said, Thoroughbreds thrives on the strength of its performances. The two leads - Cooke and Taylor-Joy - carry a lot of complexity in their roles, and without precisely matching their performances to Finley’s direction, this could have come across like a cheap parody instead of a sophisticated take down. Olivia Cooke plays Amanda’s detachment without dipping into robotic or monotone vocal inflections; she feels fully realized, as does Anya Taylor-Joy’s Lily, who (mostly) maintains her composure during her breakdowns, a remnant of the obvious polish in her upbringing.
Bottom Line: Thoroughbreds is hilarious and dark, filled with solid performances and camera work that is proof that smaller, ‘stagey’ films can still have cinematic flair when brought to the screen. Do yourself a favor and take a chance on this one; it’s a pretty killer flick.
4 out of 5 Bear Paws