When I learned that another neurotic coming-of-age narrative film was actually coming into fruition, written and directed by an actual post-millennial, starring the late Anton Yelchin in his final role, as well as Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split) and Olivia Cooke (Me, Earl and the Dying Girl), I could not contain my excitement. Thoroughbreds seemed like a self-aware, startling look into the world of over-privledged high school girls on the road to vengeance; with hints of Ingrid Goes West meets the precision of a David Fincher film. Yet, Cory Finley’s debut feature is a puzzling step into a world of teens who are usually overly medicated, defiant and just plain bored.
Thoroughbreds starts off very promising, borderline extremely interesting narrative teen angst film; showcasing the relationship between two very opposite and quirky teenage girls who have lost touch since going to high school (think quirk, a LOT of quirk). Amanda, played by the wonderful Olivia Cooke, admits early she is void of all feelings; proving her talents by showing Lily how to fake cry, in what she describes as “the technique”, as well as how to not care about anything and how to defy everyone in her world. Lily on the other hand, played wonderfully by the porcelain beauty Anya Taylor-Joy, is an emotional high-schooler who lets the little wealthy nuances of her step-father Mark (Paul Sparks) and her inactive choices of her mother really crawl under her skin, pushing her to the point of no return, birthing an idea for a plan on how to kill her step-father.
What began as extra money for Lily to tutor Amanda, quickly becomes a very awkward, strange and one-sided friendship based around the evolution of a plot to killing Lily’s uber-rich step-father. Mind you, Lily and Amanda never really think what would actually happen if they did kill a human being, especially when one acknowledges the fact that they spend most of the film drinking his expensive wine; swimming in his luxurious pool and playing with his life-size garden chess pieces in the backyard; but hey, who am I to judge the semantics?
When we first meet Amanda and Lily, Finely does a masterful job of capturing us in their web of natural seduction and arousal. Between the denim short-shorts, the summer dresses and low-hanging tops showcasing the young women’s sultry and seductive assets, Amanda and Lily are two very attractive young ladies who are unfortunately plagued with what I like to call, a severe case of “first-world problems”. Lily can’t stand her step father’s rowing machine upstairs, or the way her treats her mother, despite her relishing of the newly purchased tanning machine in the basement, or extravagant chef-inspired dinner dishes in the evening. Luckily for Lily, thanks to her newly rekindled relationship with her elementary school weirdo friend Amanda, who recently butchered her favourite riding horse in the family barn, gives Lily the idea and nerve to hatch a plan to kill Mark.
Finely shows immense potential as a debut filmmaker. His natural use of getting the best out of his actors with his fluid direction and razor-sharp script, allows the talented young actresses hone in on their naturally seductive characters, mannerisms and nuances. Amanda’s constantly witty remarks to justify herself to Lily never grow old; Lily’s ferocious delivery of her ideas and counter-arguments to Amanda are entertaining as heck, and the two girls constantly keep the audience engaged throughout.
Luckily, aside from Amanda and Lily, the last piece to the puzzle of murder and anarchy is Tim; a sluggish extremist who provides the film with its majority of dark comedy and humour, played mercifully by the late Anton Yelchin. Unfortunately, Yelchin was never able to see the film finished, due to a very tragic and bizarre vehicle freak-accident. Thankfully, Tim is the film’s very emotional core; see-sawing between compassionate anti-hero, to logical irrationality, dabbling with hints of disillusionment and false promises. Yelchin has never been better as a battered and bruised stoner, idealist and ultimate dreamer.
While I truly admire the bravado of Thoroughbreds, my final feelings for the films lies heavier towards the spoiled and pretentious spectrum of the scale. As a man who one day hopes to have children, it gives little to no hope for being a parent; giving the assumption that teenagers within the middle-class to upper-class realms of Western society, won’t like the choices their parents make for them, and maybe just decide to do away with them, and kill them, or at least, think of killing them. I mean, is going to boarding school really that bad, especially when you can’t stand your step-dad but still need to abide and live by the rules of his lavish Connecticut mansion? Even when he is as robotic as RoboCop and seems more mild-mannered and polite as Pee-Wee Herman? Mark surely isn’t the worst step-father we have seen on film, and there have been other characters on celluloid that deserve a much brutal death, for doing so much more than poor, old Mark.
Thoroughbreds is also plagued with a variety of inconsistencies, the main one being that, if Amanda is in-fact void of emotions, then why is she so loyal to Lily and her masterplan of murder? Finely spends little to no time establishing trust between the girls and the loyalty they have to one another, other than a scene involving a hug and some harsh truths and realities the girls share with one another, in almost a therapeutic introduction to once-longtime friends. Instead, Finely slogs through the majority of the film with flat subject matter, monotone delivery, artificial acting and an anti-climactic film that really doesn’t go anywhere, while still maintaining that ferocity, witty, sharp and edgy tone that we mentioned previously. Finely has a very interesting yet fresh way of presenting characters, his dialogue and their turmoil, almost like a flat iron; once pressed, subject become piping hot and steamy, but the final product is crisp, flat and stiff. Think of a Keanu Reeves film, the king of monotone. One can’t seem to keep their eyes away from a Reeves film, but we know the range of depth for any of Keanu’s characters, and their limitation reaching no further than an eye-wink or forced smile.
Aesthetically speaking, Thoroughbreds is a bold and brave film. Visually alluring on many levels, despite the upper-class air of superiority, cinematographer Lyle Vincent navigates the audience throughout a home and community of people trying too hard to attain social status, rather than actually caring and raising their children. Followed with an incredible score and use of music by Erik Friedlander, whose use of tribal beating drums really elevates the bone-chilling and spine-tingling anticipation throughout the film, elevating it to constant suspicious levels.
While Thoroughbreds really doesn’t fit in this very vocal and loud moment in Hollywood begging for diversity and cultural change, even by its title, the film succeeds from drawing attention to itself for all the wrong reasons and truly becomes an engaging art-piece that asks many question, leaves many questions unanswered, but most of all, gives us a very extreme look at a world that many of us are unfamiliar with. Thoroughbreds is a startling debut feature film by a promising young director who’s fearless attitude towards filmmaking really shines through each and every frame. Think of Thoroughbreds like a shiny trophy; in the moment, you are glad to have attained it and win it, but after a while, when the dust settles and the air clears, its just a reminder of the earlier accomplishments of a very bright future ahead.
Night Film Reviews: 6 Stars Out of 10 Stars.
What did you think of Thoroughbreds? Promising debut feature or a highly saturated and forcefully artful look at the very misrepresented upper class? What did you think of Anton Yelchin’s final performance? Leave your thorough comments below!