Cinematic Releases: Thoroughbreds (2018) - Reviewed

In recent years, there haven’t been a wide variety of films with teenage girls in the lead that aren’t more traditionally coming of age movies. Films like Lady Bird, Edge of Seventeen, and Easy A are all good but I need something with more bite to it. 

There is not enough bite to these movies. They are all good movies but for me personally, I need something with a little more kick to it. Something like Heathers, which was a caustic satire and unarguably one of the best films about teenagers ever made. I need more movies like that. I need something that leaves you sitting in the theater gob-smacked. There hasn’t been any edgy boundary pushing movies featuring young teens behaving badly in a long time...which is part of the reason why Thoroughbreds is so welcome. Out this weekend in select theaters, Thoroughbreds is a darkly funny noir-tinged look at privilege, violence, and the dissatisfaction of young women and one of the more fascinating films of the this year so far.

Childhood friends Lily (Anya Taylor Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke) reconnect in upper class suburban Connecticut after years of growing apart. Lily has turned into a polished, upper-class teenager, with a fancy boarding school on her transcript and a coveted internship on her resume. She strongly feels the pressure of her potential Ivy League future crushing down on her. Amanda has developed a sharp wit and her own particular carefree and emotionless attitude, all in the process of becoming a social outcast. She doesn’t care much about how she is perceived and lets everybody know that. Though at first they seem like polar opposites who should be completely at odds with each other, the pair reestablish their bond over Lily's contempt for her oppressive and rude stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks). As their friendship grows, they begin to bring out one another's most destructive tendencies, setting them on dark bath that intertwines them with a local hustler, Tim (Anton Yelchin), and forces them to take matters into their own hands to set their lives straight.

This film is a sharp and well-made movie that hits the target in ways that I did not expect it to. The titular Thoroughbreds are brilliant. Anya Taylor Joy brings vulnerability and humanity to her character. Even when we don’t agree with what she is doing, she is fascinating to watch. There are moments where the expression on her face does all of the work that film needs. Olivia Cooke is also great as the non-feeling Amanda. With her frequently deadpan delivery, she steals scenes and articulates the black humor of the film. The supporting turns by the Paul Sparks and the late great Anton Yelchin add some much needed texture to a film for the most part is effectively a two-hander. The film’s acting and writing is some of the sharpest and driest I have seen in sometime.

The film’s central question is who needs empathy when you have privilege? That is the question that drives first time writer-director Cory Finley’s razor-sharp debut. He raises and answers this question with admirable confidence and wicked style. The amount of style and talent this guy has is undeniable. Finley directs a film that can be described as neo-noir riff on Heathers as directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and Alfred Hitchcock. Every moment from the film’s impeccable use of camera work and sound design and score makes you feel like you are a part of the world and let’s you breathe in and feel how suffocating the privileged world these characters lives in really is.

As I was watching this film, I felt like I was watching a new strong directorial voice unfolding right in front of me. Cory Finley is someone that I’ll be looking out for in the future. While it is not for everybody, I found that Thoroughbreds is a film that is destined to be a cult hit. This is one that will embraced by those who like their comedy to be pitch black. 

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-Liam S. O'Connor