Hot Take: A dark, crafty psychological teen thriller with two breakout stars that has the ability to become a cult classic a la Heathers. A brilliant debut from writer/director Cory Finley.
Thoroughbreds is not a film made for the average moviegoer. That’s okay. They’re likely off seeing Black Panther for the second or third time or watching the Avengers: Infinity War trailer on repeat. It is the quintessential critic/film school flick though. Nowhere near as prevalent as these types of films were in the ’90s, Thoroughbreds is a refreshingly unique but thematically familiar teen thriller featuring Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy in breakout performances as two teens who used to be friends growing up but drifted apart. Amanda, played by Cooke, feels nothing and has been shunned by the community for euthanizing her horse with a knife and Lily, played by Taylor-Joy, feels everything and has been paid by Amanda’s mother to tutor and spend time with Amanda. Eventually, the two rekindle their friendship and Lily reveals that she hates her stepfather (Paul Sparks) which opens the door for Amanda to propose that the pair arrange to have her stepfather killed.
The film itself is a slight 92 minutes and Thoroughbreds flies by in a blink. It’s meticulously shot and film festival fans will gush over its deliberate and stylish choices. It’s not style over substance either as there’s plenty to chew on here within the darkly comic satire presented. Amanda who feels nothing can’t be hurt no matter what is said to her. She must feel compassion or empathy though as she won’t allow her pet horse to continue to suffer in the opening and then, throughout the film, as her friendship with Lily grows stronger, she has empathy for Lily’s self-indulgent plight of disdain for her stepfather. Cooke and Taylor-Joy are phenomenal in their roles. For Taylor-Joy, this is at least three great performances in her young career. The lesser known Cooke is also in the upcoming big budget Spielberg flick Ready Player One so it’s likely she’ll be known more in the near future. There’s some debate over who is in the starring role and who would be the supporting cast member and for me, it’s Cooke as Amanda who is the star and Taylor-Joy is the supporting actress but considering the timing of the release, it’s unlikely that topic will matter as Awards season is in the way too distant future. Anton Yelchin, in one of his final roles, also appears in a supporting role as a drug dealer the two girls encounter on multiple occasions.
There’s a little bit of Heathers but the comparisons there are mostly due to its dark tone and teenage subject matter. Dismissing Thoroughbreds as a Heathers clone would be a mistake though as the film feels very unique and not derivative in any way. There’s a dark humor that Thoroughbreds is laced with and a nasty streak that does more than just take advantage of the talent of two young up-and-coming talents but also does so much with advancing the story through subtle stylized moments that makes it an all around winning film from almost every aspect. We’ll need to keep an eye out for Finley’s next endeavor because his first is deliciously dazzling.
You find yourself attracted to the off-beat film festival fare more often than your basic studio flick. Plus, you remember how good Anya Taylor-Joy was in The Witch and Split and were waiting for her next role.
You’re perfectly fine with studio flicks and you’d rather see Black Panther a few more times.