Thoroughbreds is a nasty little thriller about two girls that conspire to murder an overbearing step-father. Estranged friends Amanda and Lily spend their days studying for the SAT and pushing the limits of what they each think they are capable of. Playing out on screen like a true-crime dramatization, our protagonists are dangerous and unpredictable. 2017’s Super Dark Times reminded us that there is nothing more threatening than teenagers, but Thoroughbreds will have you installing locks on every door in your house.
Originally conceived of as a stage play, Thoroughbreds is directed by Cory Finley. The film stars Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch), Paul Sparks (House of Cards) and the late Anton Yelchin (Green Room). The dark, coming-of-age thriller was an official selection at Sundance & Fantastic Fest, and winner of the Reel Social Club Indie Spirit Award at the Denver International Film Festival.
In the opening of Thoroughbreds we are given a clear impression of what lays ahead. We see Amanda in her horses’ stable late at night, the moonlight just dim enough for us to see the knife she has brought with her. This moment, though it is deliberately never shown, looms over the entire film. There is a distance between Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) that we feel immediately. We’re unsure what was driven between the two of them but Lily clearly feels uncomfortable around her old friend. We begin to get a better understanding of the space between them when Amanda abruptly announces that she is a sociopath and feels no emotion. No excitement, no shame. No guilt, no fear.
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Naturally, Amanda wastes no time humoring others. When she sees the hatred Lily has for her controlling and obsessive step-father Mark (Paul Sparks), she simply asks Lily why she hasn’t considered killing him. The mention of this disturbs Lily. Unlike her friend, Lily is a closed book. She does not express her thoughts or feelings. Instead, she bottles the darkest parts of herself despite a growing pressure that threatens to explode in all directions. To Lily, Amanda is a reminder of the person she once was, and a reflection of the person she will need to become if they are to follow through on their plans.
A surprising addition to the story is Anton Yelchin’s portrayal of the local wannabe gangster, Tim. We’ve all known a “Tim” at one time or another. The drug dealer with delusions of grandeur. The braggadocios, self-made entrepreneur that can’t pronounce entrepreneur. Yelchin’s performance is delivered with such belief and understanding of the character, that it reminds us (again) of the talent we have lost. Like Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice, Yelchin’s time on screen is limited, but it will no doubt be seen as one of his most impressive roles.
At every turn, we are unsure if the girls’ plan is justified, if they will see it through to the end, or if they will succeed. Thoroughbreds is a story that lives and dies with our two protagonists and the longer the two spend with each other, the more they begin to learn from one another. As someone who does not feel naturally, Amanda explains that she has had to mimic every emotion she has ever outwardly shown. Conversely, Lily is fueled by a hatred for her step-father that plagues her every waking moment.
Thoroughbreds is a patient thriller that gives the viewer time explore both Lily and Amanda‘s twisted lives. A bold directorial debut from newcomer Cory Finley, Thoroughbreds is quiet, reserved, and hot to the touch. An indie entry that we so rarely see on the marquee of our local multiplexes, the film is an example of what character driven story telling can deliver. The stakes feel real and the danger is palpable. The relationship of Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy’s characters is complicated and troublesome. Like all good friends, they bring out the best in one another, but their best involves quite a lot more bleach and plastic gloves than your average friendship.
Thooroughbreds was released theatrically March 9, 2018. Directed by Cory Finley, the film stars Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch), Paul Sparks (House of Cards) and Anton Yelchin (Green Room). If you’ve had a chance to see Thoroughbreds, we’d love to hear what you thought of the film in the comments below and in the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook group.