Quick Hit: Tense, taut, with excellent camera work and haunting performances.
Thoroughbred – a purebred or pedigreed animal.
Thoroughbred – a thoroughly educated or skilled person.
These definitions are important to understanding the movie that is Cory Finley’s debut feature Thoroughbreds. We open with Amanda (Olivia Cooke of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Ready Player One) standing next to an obviously thoroughbred horse. With a knife. To say more is to spoil some of the slow and delicious breakdown of the story – but suffice it to say that things get real – including a chilling description of actions that occur off-screen. We then follow Amanda into a huge mansion of a home for a confusing SAT prep with Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy of Split and The VVitch). These girls, as it turns out, are also thoroughbreds, and therein lies the darkness of the film.
And don’t get me wrong, this film is dark. It features a plot for murdering Lily’s step-father (played with near evil glee by Paul Sparks). This involves getting involved with shady cast-off Tim (the late Anton Yelchin of Green Room and The Beaver) who may not be totally what he seems. The cast pulls off this darkness while also making you believe that there is more going on in their heads. Honestly, I think the cast, which is small and very theatrical, is the best part of the film. Cooke shows why she is such a growing star with her sociopathic performance. Often throughout the film, she’ll catch a glimpse of herself in a mirror, and will throw a human emotion at it – but it never quite sticks and always seems off.
Taylor-Joy, for her part, continues to build on her previous performances and makes Lily a much deeper character than is first assumed. Part of this is her wide-eyed look, which is natural, but other pieces of it are dredged from beneath her look to show a shaky confidence that builds in Lily throughout the film. Yelchin, in a fitting performance for his last, shows that he still fits great as an outsider. His Tim, who is filled with outward bluster and is by far all talk, is one of the understated points of the movie that makes it work so well.
But the movie also wouldn’t be anywhere without its technical aspects. The camerawork is amazing, with Finley unafraid to explore the halls and space of Lily and Mark’s home. We often come up on character’s from behind, using different techniques to make it feel as if we’re in the room with them. It is extremely indicative of the work that Stanley Kubrick did with The Shining and the Overlook. This is especially important as we begin to lose ourselves to the story – which leads me to the sound design. There’s really good focus on really small sounds here – you never would have thought you’d dread the sound of an exercise machine so much.
I liked this one a lot, especially the more I thought on it. I think the ending was a bit too tidy and rushed, which is why I docked it a few points. Other than that, great! I’m giving it an “A-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"