First-time filmmaker Cory Finley gives us a convincing world of wealth and luxury—a suburban Connecticut dreamscape of big driveways, manicured lawns and stabled ponies. Finley’s camera glides through scenes like a hand running luxuriously over velvet. His story is extreme: let’s just say that these rich girls prefer guns and knives to ponies and pearls. But it’s also a brilliantly witty film. The chat between Amanda and Lily has a killer black humor to it, and the relationship between the two young women stays powerful and intriguing right to the end.
As the actors playing Amanda and Lily, Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) and Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) give a masterclass in weird, intense friendships, nodding back to past films about tight teens in trouble like Cruel Intentions and Heavenly Creatures. Each young woman brings out the worst in the other. At first it seems like Amanda is the difficult one: she’s full of attitude and notorious for killing her own horse. Lily seems more prim and proper. But once she and Lily begin to bond, it’s clear they’re both as bad as each other.
With Lily desperate for her stepdad to disappear, and Amanda unable to feel any emotions or care for other people, the pair enter into a dangerous relationship with a local drug dealer, Tim, who’s played by the late Anton Yelchin. Tim is a shaggy-haired, twitchy criminal, but Yelchin plays him as more sad than seedy. It’s a great performance. We end up feeling sorry for Tim, especially when Amanda and Lily start to play with him. The scenes of the three of them together are electric, not least an unforgettable episode at Lily’s house involving a classic stand-off with a gun.
Writer-director Cory Finley is a genius with dialogue. The talk in Thoroughbreds is extremely careful, with as much attention paid to timing and pauses between lines as to the words themselves. It’s full of quotable lines, right from when Amanda tells Lily at the start how she plans to ‘Steve Jobs her way through life’ rather than bothering with education. We’re ‘just two minors with incredibly expensive family lawyers’ they later tell Tim. It helps that Cooke and Taylor-Joy are such great performers, lending these words a sense of cool detachment that gives the movie such bad-assed attitude.
Thoroughbreds is a story that creeps up on you. First, you’re loving the chat and the playful, strange relationship between Lily and Amanda—then the next minute you’re watching the film through your fingers and worried if you’re going to be able to deal with the next scene. It would be unfair to give away much, but let’s just say that what begins as a portrait of an unusual friendship turns into something much more unpredictable and nail-biting and bloody. It’s a highly original and expertly crafted film, and you’d be foolish to turn down an invitation into its world of twisted humor, privilege and power.