Film Review: Thoroughbreds (2018)

‘Dark, psychotic and hilarious’

2018 in Cinema:

Thoroughbreds

Directed by: Cory Finley

Starring: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift

 

Dark, psychotic and fun, Thoroughbreds was a film I’d not heard of prior to seeing its showing at my local cinema, but I’m certainly glad I watched it. Focusing on the lives of reunited friends Amanda (Olivia Cooke, Ready Player One) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) as they eventually scheme to murder Lily’s step-father, Mark (Paul Sparks). And while it may seem like quite a basic plot, this film is anything but basic. From the very beginning where we see Amanda stroking her horse before turning to a knife, we know that she is, on some form, potentially violent and possibly mentally unstable, and that becomes much more evident as the film progresses. But she’s not alone, as Lily’s hatred of her step-father slowly turns her mind from an upper-class, highly educated young woman to a potential murderer.

Firstly, the acting in this film is fantastic. Olivia Cooke is quickly becoming one of my favourite actresses working today and Anya Taylor-Joy is also fantastic alongside her. Sparks and Anton Yelchin aren’t given enough time, in my opinion, but still put out really effective performances nonetheless. Cooke’s deadpan expression throughout, as she suffers from an illness which prevents her from feeling emotions, is played beautifully for, both, comedic and psychotic effect. And while it may appear that those two do not necessarily go together, her performances allow them to blend seamlessly. There are also some really heart-felt moments between the two, talking about their friendship, Amanda’s recent events, the death of Lily’s father and the murder plot itself, they never necessarily become best friends, but there’s a connection between them that we can invest in.

The presentation of this film, from the camera angles to the soundtrack, are also superb. Initially I wasn’t sure of the soundtrack as it is rather bizarre. Strange noises and clanging sounds seem to be thrown together almost at random for no rhyme or reason, but the craziness of the soundtrack perfectly matches the craziness of the tone. From the clear mental instability these girls are living through, the musical accompaniment allows for a subtle way to further highlight their instability by the score’s instability. And I also loved how they do not feel the need to show us everything, leaving much of the work to the imagination. From the very first scene the moment Amanda looks at the knife we fast-forward to a future date (which is never specifically stated but Amanda’s texts to Lily were sent in 2016 for some reason) without knowledge of what actually happened. Later Lily chats with someone on Skype and we only hear the typing and see her reaction, not knowing what is being written or shown and other noises and events are always kept off-screen as it would have felt more clunky or unnecessary to include them. The exercise machine that Mark uses is kept off-screen but its sound is constantly heard throughout and it often overshadows the films that Amanda and Lily are watching, and it just adds to their anger and despair at Mark as you can feel them tensing up with each sound the machine makes.

Is Thoroughbreds a good film? Yes. Is Thoroughbreds a brilliant film? Unfortunately no.

While keeping stuff largely off-screen is fantastic, as we don’t need to be spoon-fed everything, there is no explanation for Lily’s hatred of Mark, and for the first chapter or two (the film is presented in four chapters) it does hamper my involvement in their ploy as I’m not sure if I should be rooting for them or not. If he’s abusive or nasty we can buy into their desire to see him gone, but we get nothing but Amanda saying to Lily ‘you hate him’. He doesn’t even do anything to warrant this reaction but it just felt like the creators either didn’t want to or didn’t have time to explain why and simply used Amanda to tell us that Lily hates Mark. It genuinely felt like she had just turned to the camera and told us ‘don’t ask why but Lily hates Mark, okay?’ and then the film can begin from there. Towards the end, admittedly, it does help in some ways but by then it’s too late.

I also can’t decide if the film is too short or too long. Much more time is given to the initial creation of the plan than any acting out of it, and the beginning and the ending are really abrupt. The beginning is basically Amanda with a horse and Lily hates Mark, begin film, and the ending is an event followed by a quick consequence of the event, roll credits. There could have been more time spread around.

Thoroughbreds is certainly an interesting film, with great performances, a bizarre soundtrack and two characters whose mental stability can never be trusted. The film cleverly keeps so many things away from the audience without it becoming tiresome, and the whole saga with the horse is spread throughout the film as it’s not stated at the beginning what happened so until we get Amanda’s telling of the incident it just comes in bits and pieces. It’s just a shame that personally their friendship was never truly shown (with no clips of them as children, bar a picture, or why they stopped being friends in the first place) and Lily’s hatred of Mark wasn’t really shown for us to become truly invested in their scheming, but overall the film is dark, psychotic and hilarious, rolled into a plethora of genres from drama to black comedy to teen thriller and certainly worth a watch, despite its relatively low exposure.

 

Plot: * * *     Acting: * * * *     Writing: * * *     Presentation: * * * *

Overall Rating: * * * ½

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