Thoroughbreds manages to do something few films are capable of, make you feel invested in characters who are not invested in their own lives. There are no sympathetic characters in the movie and at a certain point you realize you can no longer trust your narrator nor your emotions toward any of the characters What would normally be a detriment to a film instead is a total rush. Thoroughbreds is one of the most fun and playful dark comedies in ages.
Taking place in a upscale Connecticut suburb of New York City (so upscale they look down on Westchester County) Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch) is hired to tutor Amanda (Olivia Cooke, Ready Play One) for her SATs. Amanda is a disheveled mess, devoid of emotions “First it was borderline personality, than severe depression, now she thinks I’m antisocial with schizoid tendencies. She’s basically just flipping to random pages of the DSM and throwing medications at me. ” while Lily is an empath with a perfectly ordered life. It turns out the two were friends once upon a time but Lily’s father died and she was soon shuttled off to boarding school by her mother and boorish stepdad. He has a samurai sword on his office wall and a photo of himself with a lion he shot proudly displayed on his desk. Lily seethes with hate toward her stepfather and Amanda immediately pick up on it and soon introduces the idea that she and Lily could kill him. They both tussle with the idea of murder before attempting to set up and blackmail local loser Tim (Anon Yeltsin, Star Trek) into doing the deed for them. Obviously nothing goes according to plan or assumption and secrets about both girls wreck havoc on the audience’s narrative assumptions. By the end all of your assumptions about the protagonists are called into question by a likely unreliable narrator. The film’s coda initially feels oblique until you realize the truth is spoken in the movie although it can be difficult to sort out the truth between two characters who may or may not actually have emotions.
The whole film crackles with energy. Even though the film is mostly shot in backyard, kitchen, and TV room of a New England McMansion it never feels static or claustrophobic. The film is unafraid to tweak tropes and subvert expectations in a way that actually makes the story better. Writer and director Cory Finley is a playwright and his dry, witty, dialogue is delivered like whip cracks between his young, talented actresses. The film’s coda initially feels oblique until you realize the truth is spoken in the movie although it can be difficult to sort out the truth between two characters who may or may not actually have emotions. Both actresses deliver nuanced performances that rely on small moments rather than the broad strokes so often aligned with great acting. The way they bounce of each other is captivating and although Anya Taylor-Joy got to show her chops in The Witch (and Thoroughbreds further solidifies her as a potentially great actress), Olivia Cooke was utterly wasted in Ready Player One.
Thoroughbreds has been compared to Heathers, but it is far less broad than Heathers and really focuses on just these two girls in their homes, their safe spaces, and most of all out of view of anyone who could provide context to their words or actions. The sense of isolation is palpable throughout the film. The script doesn’t worry much about the morality of Lily and Amanda’s actions as they have no moral compass so why should we care and perhaps that is exactly the point.