Review: Thoroughbreds (spoilers)

Thoroughbreds relishes in its marriage of American Psycho and Heathers. The compelling interplay of mentally complex teenagers and exuberant selfishness twists on a sinuous path to a role-reversing twist likely shocking most viewers. Both protagonists are given interesting, complete personalities, while each character struggles with their own respective vices. The stark contrast between these leads allows the story to unfold naturally, allowing the audience to seamlessly learn more about these intriguing characters.

The plot follows Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her psychopathic friend Amanda (Olivia Cooke), who scheme to kill the former’s stepfather (Paul Sparks) with the help of a low-level drug dealer name Tim (Anton Yelchin). This synopsis may seem simple but the streamlined motivation allows the creative team to focus on the psychological complexity of its characters. While Amanda’s grotesque “mercy” killing of a horse (insert title here) is constantly alluded to, the director makes the wise decision to never show the audience actual pictures of the malevolent yet charitable act. In ways, it is more powerful to see other characters “react” to these images without actually showing the horror to the viewers, allowing imaginations to run wild. In fact, this technique foreshadows very important scenes toward the end of the film.

Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy appear in Thoroughbred by Cory Finley, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. © 2016 Sundance Institute | photo by Claire Folger.

In one of Anton Yelchin’s final roles, the actor steals the limited scenes he appears in with an enlightened performance of a hustling drug dealer with ambitious business dreams. However, the trailer mostly showcases all of Yelchin’s most memorable moments, diminishing his performance slightly. Paul Sparks is another highlight in the supporting cast. Sparks manages to balance playing a strict, controlling father without ever really launching into absurdity. Sure, he is rude and a stereotypical movie stepfather, yearning to ship his stepchild to a boarding school, but he never really is so outrageous to merit even considering killing. Likely, this is another creative decision that is intent on making audiences disconnect with our established protagonists, ultimately questioning their levels of sanity.

As the tale progresses, some of the mysterious backstories are further explained. While both of these characters are undoubtedly untrustworthy, their interplay with each other will still engross audiences, rooting for their malevolent scheme. One shocking scene is a seemingly innocent swim that turns from an underwater contest to a near suicide attempt. In hindsight, this probably further confirms the deep psychiatric issues the main characters suffer with, rather than solidifying how horridly wretched Lily’s stepfather torments her. In particular, a depressingly cold lecture by Lily’s stepfather would endear audience members to Lily’s efforts; however Amanda immediately remarks that Lily’s stepfather’s vitriol contained some truth. These unexpected reactions will confuse audiences, which I believe is much needed in this morally grey film.

 

This movie’s ending somewhat plays out like the recently released Phantom Thread. There is an unexpected twist that has been somewhat built up throughout the entire movie, yet will still stun audiences leaving the theater. Personally, I believe the ending is executed beautifully but is somewhat of a disappointment. Special praise should be given to writer-director Cory Finley’s creative shots that result in a visually muted, but shockingly powerful climax that features less sensory violence than trailers would have you believe.

Without spoiling any more key scenes, Thoroughbreds thrives under a patient director that lets scenes marinate through great performances and insightful writing. While the event of the plot can rightfully be critiqued for a rushed third act and uneventful schemes, the mysterious reveals of our protagonists and the delightful dialogue make this relatively short film a must-see.

 

Score: 7.4/10

 

About The Author

Anthony Zangrillo is the President and Owner of the Motion Picture Club. While an undergraduate student at NYU, he founded the Motion Picture Club. At the Fordham University School of Law, he was the Online Editor of the Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal and started the IPLJ Podcast, which continues recording to this day. You can find him on Instagram: @anthony_mpc.

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