A millennial who is a sociopath, is there really anything scarier than that? Fans of suspense will be happy to know that is the premise Thoroughbreds is riding on.
This is a bold, unflinching debut film from writer, director Cory Finley. Thoroughbreds tells the story of two upper class teenage friends, Lily, Anya Taylor-Joy (Split, Morgan) and Amanda, Olivia Cooke (The Limehouse Golem, The Signal) who conspire to murder Lily’s Step-Father Mark, Paul Sparks (House Of Cards (TV), Midnight Special).
Amanda enters a sprawling, opulent house in Connecticut, she is expected but does not knock, she walks right in. While Amanda explores the house she is introduced to Mark the way he would want to be seen.
On his desk are two prominently displayed photos of him, one of him holding a rifle beside a recently killed lion. The other photo is of Mark swinging around a katana sword, the male bravado is laid on a little thick here.
Lily finds Amanda and stops her intrusion, at least for the time being. These ladies then sit down and go to work, Lily is tutoring Amanda to prepare for her SAT.
The dynamic of the room quickly changes when Amanda calmly tells Lily that she is a sociopath. “My brain is fine, it just isn’t filled with these emotions,” Amanda says, “It just means I have to work harder at being good than other people.”
At this moment Amanda makes feeling emotions such as happiness or empathy seam like a weakness. Maybe these days that could be the sad truth.
Mark clearly did not afford that mansion they are in by being charitable, and when we do meet Lily’s widowed mother, Karen, Kaili Vernoff (Cafe Society, Ratter), one does not get the impression that she married Mark because of a winning personality.
Enter Mark. After only observing Lily interact with Mark for a minute, Amanda realizes that Lily hates him with a passion. She denies it of course, but in time Amanda wears her down.
“Why don’t you just kill him?”, Amanda says. It turns out Lily had the capacity to kill all along, it just took a like minded individual such as Amanda to enable her.
We eventually learn that Amanda has legal trouble, involving a recent incident with a horse she used to ride as a child. Not to worry, this does not veer into Equus territory, but I do not want to spoil anything for you.
Thoroughbreds is a gripping dark-comedy with suspense that builds until its last gasp. The tone and overall style of the film is well crafted. Whether it is the slow, creeping camera shots that move ominously from room to room as In Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, or the brilliant bit of sound design every time we hear Mark exercising on his ergometer.
That winding, undulating sound which keeps Lily up all night is an ergometer, a rowing machine that is used to great effect, as is everything written into this story. The snappy dialogue between these characters is witty and demands an audience. The way I go on about how strong the writing is, it may not surprise you that Thoroughbreds is based on a play script.
The filmmaker, Cory Finley got his start by being an accomplished playwright ever since 2015. Much like another prodigy, Orson Welles, Finley was recognized for his talent at a young age.
Cory Finley was made a member of the Youngblood, an elite group of professional playwrights who are under the age of 30. He was then entrusted to direct Thoroughbreds, a major motion picture when he was only 27.
That film went on to premier at Sundance 2017 and was swiftly sold to Focus Features for $5 Million. Legend has it that the deal was signed with Focus Feature giving only one condition, they had to add an “s” to the end of the title. The movie screened at Sundance under the title of Thorougbred.
This was a good change, it reflects the image of these two privileged protagonists, who are a class above, acting on their own accord. The title is also a metaphor for the breed of characters who make up this story. These people are wealthy and feed off of all the luxuries and trappings that lifestyle provides.
This is the life of housekeepers and spa retreats, gated properties and topiaries. Their house is so big this family could go days without seeing each other, a distance they are comfortable with. In contrast to all this is Tim, a drug dealer who is the last performance we will see from the late actor Anton Yelchin (Star Trek Beyond, Trollhunters (TV)). These girls try to manipulate Tim into being part of their murder plot. Will it work?
This is a world Cory Finley knows all to well. After graduating from Yale, he started working as a private tutor. Hitting the books in affluent houses, like the one featured in Thoroughbreds.
It is safe to say that is why the house was given the same attention as the well developed characters when this stage play was adapted for the big screen.
The first time murder is discussed, Amanda and Lily are down in the wine cellar, a space that represents the subconscious urges of these two. Later, when Amanda confesses to Lily what happened with her family horse, she is outside in the garden. Amanda calmly shares details about this life changing event while she moves cement chess pieces that are two feet tall around a giant chess board.
In a clever move, the Knight, the horse chess piece, is one of the first Amanda chooses to play forward. Minutiae like this has to be recognised given that Finley said the original play script was pretty much just these two girls and a couch. Thoroughbreds is Finley’s first feature film, I trust it will not be the last.
Curt Wiser is the Writer, Director of the Suspense movie Cam-Girl. As a filmmaker and artist he is happy to applaude other movies and share them with the world.