What happens when a street-smart, completely unemotional teen girl rekindles her childhood friendship with a doubtful, book-smart girl who can feel emotions, but who wants to get rid of one pressing problem in her life? This situation lies at the core of “Thoroughbreds”. Extremely talented rising stars Olivia Cooke (“The Limehouse Golem” (2017)) and Anya Taylor-Joy (“Split” (2016) and “The Witch” (2015)) star as Amanda and Lily respectively, two girls from a wealthy suburban neighbourhood in Connecticut who have the so-called “meeting of the minds” and join their forces to put aside their problems for good. Lily has a problem with her stepfather, while Amanda is curious how far she can go on her unemotional spectrum and commit acts she would otherwise not even consider. When the duo meets criminally-minded Tim (Anton Yelchin (“Green Room” (2015)) their sinister intentions take a step closer to reality.
The film is divided into chapters (for other examples see “Brimstone” (2017) and “Antichrist” (2009)), which gives the story coherence and boosts character development. In the movie, Amanda tries to lend her helping hand to Lily and encourage the latter to open up her feelings about her stepfather. “Think outside the box” and “the only thing worse of being uncomfortable or evil is being indecisive”, tells Amanda to Lily in a speed-of-light monotone. Lily begins to take Amanda’s advice seriously when the situation of Lily’s living with her parents becomes more unbearable, and when, later, her parents decide on an unenviable future for her. Reviewers say that “Thoroughbreds” is “Heathers” (1988) meets “American Psycho” (2000) (because the three movies are dark comedies), but this description misses the point. “Thoroughbreds” is miles away from “American Psycho” and only slightly resembles in plot the situation in “Heathers”. The presentation of the movie resembles the work of Lanthimos (see “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (2017)) and the plot may be a combination of Park Chan-wook’s “Stoker” (2013) and “Heathers” with a touch of “Hard Candy” (2005). As in “Stoker”, the plot here centres on a girl who is having a complicated relationship with her father-figure, and the father-figure of “Stoker” actually resembles that in “Thoroughbreds”. However, unlike, in “Stoker”, the characters of the present film are all more interesting to watch as each of them unveils their hidden personalities, and the audiences can just marvel at Amanda and Lily’s audacity.
“Thoroughbreds”’s direction is exquisite, and much merit of the film is probably due to the smart directional choices made. “Thoroughbreds” is stylishly and compellingly executed, especially the scene where Tim (Yelchin) first walks into Lily’s family home and is awed by all the possessions on display. The parallels with the work of Yorgos Lanthimos can be made because the camera presentation is often cold and detached (a silent observer), despite the subject matter, and, as Lanthimos, the director here likes to play with his audiences’ expectations. The feelings of awkwardness and suspense are definitely taken care of in this film. Little is known about Cory Finley (the director), but, being his first movie, the result is very impressive in this way. The film is also now known as the last film of a very talented young actor Anton Yelchin, who sadly passed away at the age of 28 in Los Angeles in 2016. Yelchin plays an outlaw and a rebel in “Thoroughbreds”, but the morbid charm of his character still shines through and initially works like magic on the two “innocent” girls.
Wealthy and respectable American homes that present their impeccable outside image only to harbour troubled secretive lives have graced the screens before and successfully. Mendes’s “American Beauty” (1999) and the films of David Lynch are the testament to that. Troubled young girls trying to find their life paths are also nothing new as topics and the Internet effect on them has been more recently seen in “Ingrid Goes West” (2017). However, “Thoroughbreds” attempts to focus on a psychological triangle specifically, and merely likes to hint and play with expectations, always falling a step short of a full and brave delivery. Where the problem may lie? The director/writer may have taken a gamble here with having two unsympathetic characters, but, it did not really pay off well. There is some “delicious” psychopathy on display, the music is fitting and some scenes are very memorable, but there are also moments in the film which are slow and frustrating. There are also some funny moments, but it would all have been funnier, if it was not so sad. The thing is that the film’s content lags behind the execution, and the intentional artificial presentation and unlikable characters mean that the audience is unlikely to be emotionally involved, hence the possible lukewarm feelings about the ending.
“Thoroughbreds” may be a stunning debut of the director Cory Finley, but the film’s smart presentation, rich visuals and the characterisation still excel greatly over its plot and the overall effect. Cooke, Taylor-Joy and Yelchin all perform excellently and their characters are interesting and intriguing. However, watching “Thoroughbreds” still feels like anticipating a ticking device to go-off and being poorly rewarded for the wait. No real “excitement” comes, and when it seems it does so, the result is something too unbelievable coming too late. Given the emotionally-detached aura of the film, the pay-off is small, and, like Amanda in the story, the audience may simply stop caring near the end. 7/10