Thoroughbreds

Thoroughbreds

2018, NR, 90 min. Directed by Cory Finley. Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift, Kaili Vernoff.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., March 9, 2018

The concept of the thoroughbred is that the better the lineage, the more refined the offspring. Of course, that's how you get inbreeding, madness, violence. But if you've got the class, and the money, who cares?

The spur in this examination of crime and punishment is an unseen sin in Connecticut: diffident teen Amanda (Cooke, an expert in dysfunctionality from Bates Motel), a horse, a darkened stable, a knife. After that, only Lily (The Witch's Taylor-Joy) will even be seen around Amanda, who plummeted in high school society from weird to pariah. Nominally, Lily is just helping her benighted former best friend with her SATs. But Amanda has little interest in college, and why would boarding-school success story Lily be wasting her own lofty ambitions of Andover and corporate internships on the neighborhood outcast? Darker, twisting schemes are clearly afoot.

The fact that the protagonists are teenage girls will inevitably invoke Heathers references, but this is more akin to the acerbic wit of a Kind Hearts and Coronets. The debut feature by writer/director Cory Finley began as a script for stage, not screen, and that shines through in the intricate dance of dialogue. There's a hint of David Mamet in his use of strictly defined silences, and flat statements as heavy implications. It's also in the staging: Barring a couple of elegantly crafted excursions, everything takes place in the ground floor of one or the other girl's home. Shades of the classic crime-comedy-thriller Deathtrap circle, as sharp-tongued banter becomes bloody intent.

Yet, for all its clear theatre-bound roots, Thoroughbreds never once feels stagey. Finley makes audacious cinematic decisions, like melding Erik Friedlander's discordant score with a repetitive and eventually essential sound effect; or racking the focus hard in pivotal moments, shifting emphasis and attention between foreground players and background clues. His script's razor-sharp timing is given detail by the flawless delivery from his leads. Cooke gives Amanda an engaging immediacy as the modern fake-it-'til-you-make-it ethos personified; counterbalancing her is yet another outstanding performance by Taylor-Joy, who gives Lily a brittle delicacy that disguises her own disturbing secrets. Finley looks past their assumed teen innocence and twists sympathies, to the point that statutory rapist/drug dealer Tim (another painfully beautiful reminder how effortlessly talented the late Anton Yelchin was) may be the most principled person in town.

Ultimately, Finley weaves little intricacies into the fabric of a very American story about the one thing America ignores: class. It's in tiny moments, like how Lily just knows that a discarded bag of chips will be picked up by unseen servants, or how Tim thinks he has a chance of making it. There are constant references to the mythical paths to success, with plagiarized essays and "Steve Jobs-ing it" all valid options for making it to adulthood. Yet the truth is always clear: Nothing wipes away blood like money and connections.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Anya Taylor-Joy Films
The New Mutants
The last of the X-Men finally get to the screen

Richard Whittaker, Aug. 28, 2020

Emma.
Anya Taylor-Joy gives Austen’s priggish heroine the spark she deserves

Richard Whittaker, Feb. 28, 2020

More by Richard Whittaker
Panic Fest Review: <i>The Whooper Returns</i>
Panic Fest Review: The Whooper Returns
Metahorror deals with the trauma of having your life as a movie

April 13, 2021

Panic Fest Review: <i>Night Drive</i>
Panic Fest Review: Night Drive
Weird, grisly rideshare buddy comedy takes strange detours

April 13, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Thoroughbreds, Cory Finley, Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift, Kaili Vernoff

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle