“Thoroughbreds” is a tightly acted and entertaining thriller written and directed by Cory Finley in his feature film debut.
Finley, a 28-year-old playwright with hardly any film writing credits, uses his experience writing for the stage to cut out the need for lengthy narrative, and does his audience a service of getting right to the point. The movie, divided into four unnamed chapters, moves at a delightfully quick pace.
Finley does an incredible job of telling the story with limited imagery. The movie opens in a dark barn, showing a girl standing in front of a horse, and then showing only the soft reflection of the knife she brought with her. The next scene opens on a sunny day in an opulent mansion in suburban Connecticut. Without ever naming or showing what happened in that barn, we are able to move on with a chilling implication.
The two leads, Amanda and Lily, coldly interact with each other in early scenes, revealing that they are not close, but were at one time. Both girls come from considerable wealth, and Lily seems to be on the right track, while Amanda is disinterested in school and socializing. Before long, however, Lily reveals her own darkness and dissatisfaction, and the girls rekindle the closeness of their youth.
From the start, the two young actresses deliver thrilling performances, while appearing to be almost entirely deadpan throughout the movie. Amanda, played by Olivia Cooke, reveals that she feels no emotions, and has been faking them since early childhood, even using something she refers to as “the technique” to evoke tears when necessary. Lily is played by Anya Taylor-Joy, whose performance will remind you of her character in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split,” with low voltage emotion. In “Thoroughbreds,” Finley’s use of Taylor-Joy’s vacant gaze was chill-inducing, while Shyamalan’s was more nap-inducing.
The two ladies discuss the idea of offing Lily’s stepfather, Mark, played by indie regular, Paul Sparks. Mark never crosses a line that makes him an unforgivable menace, but we find ourselves rooting for the girls anyway. The distant sound of Mark’s obsessive use of a rowing machine combined with a drum heavy film score keep us on edge, as we listen to the girls become more and more unraveled.
Eventually Lily and Amanda enlist the help of a local burn-out, Tim, played by Anton Yelchin in his final role. Yelchin gives us a whiff of humanity and guilt in his portrayal of Tim, eventually realizing he might be dealing with psychopaths. We come to expect that of the two girls, one of them will crack through their guiltless façade before something truly sinister can occur, but as the story moves along, we realize there is no façade. Of the two, Amanda, who has a history of disturbing behavior, seems the more likely to be calling the shots, but it is Lily who ultimately cannot let go of the violent urges.
The climax of the story begins so softly, that we are almost surprised to be standing on the finish line. The sharp dialogue combined with the distant sound of the rowing machine provide the chilling pretense, and once again it’s what we don’t see, that finishes up the story. The last few moments of the movie serve as an of epilogue, which wasn’t entirely necessary. The performances were so strong, and the script so exacting, and never vague — it seemed like wrapping up the story this way was a bit of an afterthought, as the character’s fates were exactly what we would have expected.
Drawing comparisons to teen-angst black comedy like cult classic, “Heathers,” doesn’t quite do justice to this movie. Finley has delivered a thoughtful, thrilling, and beautifully directed movie that happens to be on the subject of teens who want to kill.