Sunday 2 August 2020

Movie Review: Thoroughbreds (2017)

A drama and dark comedy with crime thriller elements, Thoroughbreds seeks to subvert superficial expectations while poking at scars of emotional detachment. 

In suburban Connecticut, teenagers and former grade school classmates Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) resume a friendship after a period of estrangement. Amanda admits to not feeling any emotions and is undergoing psychological assessments for harming a thoroughbred horse. Lily is pampered and comes from an exceptionally rich family, but hates her stepdad Mark. Lily is also keeping some secrets to herself.

Amanda suggests to Lily that maybe she should consider killing Mark. After initially recoiling, Lily warms up to the idea. The girls approach their acquaintance and petty drug dealer Tim (Anton Yelchin) to do the dirty deed, but not surprisingly, their half-baked plans will go sideways.

Exploring themes of friendship, the class divide, and most acutely the hidden damage within teenagers, Thoroughbreds is captivating and disquieting. Writer and director Cory Finley imports Hitchcockian touches (notably from Strangers On A Train) into a Generation Z world presented as over-analyzed, over-medicated and empathy-deficient, and adds mean streaks of humour and disorienting unpredictability.

The two girls are currents of turmoil beneath a calm surface. Amanda speaks her mind with dumbfounding directness, is always one mental step ahead of everyone else, and never hesitates to reveal her smarts. Lily hides behind the prim and proper facade of the elite. Both harbour violent tendencies born out of life's disillusionments and absentee fathers. Amanda openly embraces her weirdness while Lily is more coiled, circumspect and perhaps repressed. Despite their combined psyches inching towards malevolence, their rebuilt friendship also emits a warm glow of authenticity.

Other than a typically edgy Anton Yelchin assist (in one of his final roles), the film is essentially a two-character drama and rides entirely on the shoulders of Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke. Both actresses deliver less-is-more performances of understated efficiency, finding the manipulative gaps between truth and lies to advance individual versions of deception deployed for survival.

The film buzzes with style thanks to an unhinging mood, playful sound effects and camera work alternating between curiously gliding and passively observant. However, Finley's shortcuts are sometimes severe, and the film cries out for more than the 92 minutes of running time. All the key events in the lives of the two girls happen off-screen, and stepdad Mark is too quickly consigned to the evil category. The mothers of the girls appear in ultimately meaningless snippets.

Thoroughbreds races on a new course of its own creation, original and stark if not quite perfect.

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  1. I really liked this, both the leads were excellent and it felt fresh plot wise. Of course anything with Anton in it makes me sad now, but I'm glad he was part of this film.

    1. I agree, Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke were great, and the film boasted a cool unpredictable style. In a relatively short period Anton Yelchin left us with a rich legacy of good roles.


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