Lily and Amanda, two wealthy, troubled teenage girls living in suburban Connecticut, bond over the banality of their lives, their disdain Lily’s step dad, and toying with the idea of murder.
Thoroughbreds is a very black, dry comedy and its humor is not for everyone, in fact, a couple walked out of the showing I was in within the first twenty minutes. The remaining viewers sniggered and chuckled here and there throughout the movie, but there was never any sort of belly shaking laughter. The humor comes mostly from the utterly emotionless performances from Anya Taylor-Joy (“Split”) and Olivia Cooke (“Ready Player One”) and their withdrawn, sociopathic perspectives of the world. Watching their strong, alpha personalities interact was fascinating; they both see no reason to beat around the bush about things, they’re fed up with what they see everywhere in the world and, ironically, they bond over their lack of emotional connection.
(SOME MINOR SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH)
Amanda (Cooke) walks into a capacious bourgeoisie home and asks a maid if Lily (Taylor-Joy) is there. As the maid scuttles away to find Lily, Amanda wanders through home aimlessly, looking over all the perfect family pictures and lavish décor with a bored expression; she comes across a mirror and practices a smile. Lily eventually finds Amanda and the two of them begin to study; when an alarm rings, Lily says that their hangout time is up. Before she leaves, Amanda brings up that she feels nothing, ever, but she asserts that she doesn’t believe that makes her a bad person, just that she has to try harder than other people to be good. Amanda also reveals she has the password for her mother’s email, and she knows that Lily only hung out with her because Amanda’s mom was paying her to do it. Amanda leaves, but then returns for another hangout session a sort time later; this time, Amanda says that she saw no emails between her Lily and her Mom; there was no cash transaction. Amanda, dubious of Lily’s intentions, asks why she was invited over again, but Lily declines to answer. A short time later, Lily’s stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks, “Midnight Special”) comes into the room and has an icy interaction with the two girls, he’s particularly wary of Amanda. As soon as Mark leaves, Amanda tells Lily she knows why she was invited back over: to annoy Mark, whom Lily clearly loathes. Lily denies Amanda’s accusations for a moment, but then fesses up and confesses she can’t stand Mark. Amanda is seemingly okay with this reason for being invited back over, and the two begin a tenuous friendship.
The script is probably the best part of this film. It’s a fascinating character study of two very unique characters, but it’s also a commentary on class divide. Cory Finley, who both wrote and directed this film, relies on subtlety and symbolism to show character arcs, and that comes out through small cues in the script, his choice of colors, and his direction as to how Lily and Amanda should interact with each other. The film is quiet, clean. Many of the shots are shockingly, starkly white, showing the rich, beautiful lives for what they are, but at the same time showing how boring those lives must be. The characters, while they have similar aspects and show little growth emotionally, actually change quite a bit, if you’re paying attention to the way Finley changes certain things. The girl’s clothing choices are particularly revealing about what changes they go through- starting off innocent with white clothing and, as the film progresses and their intentions become darker, their clothing becomes blacker.
Amanda in particular spends a few scenes simply existing; laying on her bed, her phone beside her on a pillow, staring blankly up at the ceiling, or in another scene, just standing in the backyard watching the trees. She feels no real purpose for life, and she struggles to make any sort of connection, proclaiming from the beginning that she has no emotion. But while Amanda has no emotion, Lily harbors real hatred for her stepfather, even though he’s really done nothing horribly wrong (something Amanda even brings up). Amanda may be a sociopath, but she makes calculated, (to her) rational decisions. It’s hard to talk about their character changes without giving too much away, but it’s interesting to watch their personalities rub off on one another.
Anton Yelchin’s (“Green Room”) character, Tim, is a sleazy criminal who sells pot to kids and had previously gone to jail for statutory rape. His character comes into play when the girls attempt to solicit him for his weapon and other, less-than-legal services. He, too, is a very interesting character; he’s always talking about how he’s going to run the town someday, how he’s going to make it big and show everyone around him what he’s really made of. The girls mock him for his claims, saying that he’s a con, permanently on the sex offender list, there’s no way he’s going to make it big. Tim sees what the girls have, the luxurious lifestyles, the refined job opportunities, and he wants it; he’s driven to get to his goals but he puts all of his efforts into the wrong path, gets nowhere fast, and is in the end, unhappy. Juxtaposed to Tim, the girls aren’t driven to do anything, but they’re handed anything they could want, and they too are unhappy.
This film has plenty of great moments in it, and it is absolutely worth watching, but the dryness of the direction, script, and acting may turn some viewers off. The story isn’t exactly a happy subject, but there still manages to be quite a bit of humor laced throughout, and at least for me that balance between light and dark was spot on. This was Finley’s first credit as a director and writer (his first credit for anything, for that matter), but I certainly can’t wait to see what he puts out next. He’s given us a fresh new voice that actually has something interesting to say, and nowadays, in a world drowning in superhero movies, it’s refreshing to see a smart thriller with great direction and some surprising twists and turns.
Side Note: This was Anton Yelchin’s last film before he was, sadly, killed at the young age of 27 by his truck rolling backwards into him, so that too is another reason for checking it out. The film was dedicated to his memory.
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