REVIEW: Thoroughbreds (2018)

Theatrical Release Poster — Focus Features / Universal Pictures

The following is a review of Thoroughbreds — Directed by Cory Finley.

Remember My Chemical Romance? It was a rock band that my sister loved back in the day. I really liked their album The Black Parade, and every now and then some of the band’s songs come to mind. When I was watching writer-director Cory Finley’s directorial debut Thoroughbreds, I started to think about their song “Teenagers” — more specifically about the line “All teenagers scare the living shit out of me. They could care less as long as someone will bleed.” The late-great acting talent Anton Yelchin, in what seems to be his final role on film, has a similar line in the film, but he manages to express himself in much fewer words: “fucking evil children.”

Finley’s Thoroughbreds follows the machinations of two teenage girls — Lily (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), a seemingly polite upper-class teenage girl, and Amanda (played by Olivia Cooke), an emotionless and dispassionate teenage girl who has gotten herself a bad reputation (and animal cruelty charges) after she euthanized her own horse. Hoping that a reignited friendship will be a good influence on her daughter, Amanda’s mother pays Lily to tutor and spend time with the emotionally aloof Amanda. What their parents did not expect was for the two girls to plan to murder Lily’s stepfather so that she wouldn’t be forced to go to a boarding school for ‘girls with behavioral issues.’

Thoroughbreds is an interesting beast of a film. It feels like the answer to the question: what would happen if Yorgos Lanthimos wanted to make his version of Heathers but was still bound by a playwright’s script? There are impressive and slightly ominous long takes and one of the characters in the film has perfect deadpan line deliveries. Though both central characters feel like polar opposites at times — the somewhat lively, polite young woman and the silent, numb young woman with a bad reputation — they both have more to them than meets the eye. The expectations that you have for one of them may be more appropriate for the other character, and the personas that they present for themselves aren’t entirely honest.

Finley is lucky to have the opportunity to work with two of this generation’s best young actresses. Anya Taylor-Joy eats up the character’s personality traits, and she continues to prove that she is as talented as her performance in The Witch suggested. Taylor-Joy’s is the most layered role, and I think she adds a frightening drive to the character. Olivia Cooke’s character is much more straightforward, which isn’t to say that it isn’t a tough role to play. The role demands a certain mastering of an impassive expression that Olivia Cooke makes look almost authentic.

To no fault of their own, though, it is Anton Yelchin’s performance that will probably stick with you the most. It looks like this will be the final film performance by the talented actor that we lost back in 2016. Though his character’s background is awful to hear of, Yelchin lends an empathy to the film’s most important supporting character — he plays perhaps the most authentic character in the film that can feel very staged and artificial.

The entire film is so neatly designed that the decision to split it into chapters seemed unnecessary to me. In one of my favorite scenes in the film, Amanda is brushing her teeth intensely and anxiously, but the hard sound of the brushing is suddenly silenced by the sound of a text message having been received on her computer. Generally, the sound work is remarkable. Finley and his team make this one recurring sound such an annoyance that a scene, which showed very little, felt every bit as important, satisfying, and effective as possible. Cory Finley’s debut feels like the product of a much more seasoned filmmaker.

8.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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