“Thoroughbreds” Review

Thoroughbreds PosterThoroughbreds [2017] – ★★★1/2

What happens when a street-smart, completely unemotional teen girl rekindles her childhood friendship with a doubtful, book-smart girl who has emotions, but who wants to get rid of one pressing problem in her life? This situation lies at the core of Thoroughbreds. Rising stars Olivia Cooke (The Limehouse Golem (2017)) and Anya Taylor-Joy (Split (2016) and The Witch (2015)) star as Amanda and Lily respectively, two girls from a wealthy suburban neighbourhood in Connecticut who have the so-called “meeting of the minds”, joining their forces to put aside their problems for good. Lily has a problem with her stepfather, while Amanda is curious how far she can go on her “unemotional” spectrum and commit acts she would otherwise not even consider. When the duo meets criminally-minded Tim (Anton Yelchin (Green Room (2015)), their sinister intentions take a step closer to reality.  

In this film, divided into chapters, Amanda tries to lend her helping hand to Lily and encourage the latter to open up her feelings about her stepfather. “Think outside the box” and “the only thing worse of being uncomfortable or evil is being indecisive”, tells Amanda to Lily in a speed-of-light monotone. Lily begins to take Amanda’s advice seriously when the situation of Lily’s living with her parents becomes more unbearable, and when, later, her parents decide on an unenviable future for her.

Reviewers say that Thoroughbreds is Heathers (1988) meets American Psycho (2000), but this description misses the point. Thoroughbreds is miles away from American Psycho, and only slightly resembles in plot the situation in Heathers. The film’s presentation echoes the work of Lanthimos (The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)) and the plot is a combination of Park Chan-wook’s Stoker (2013) and Heathers, with a touch of Hard Candy (2005). As in Stoker, the plot here centres on a girl who is having a complicated relationship with her father-figure, and the father-figure of Stoker actually resembles that in Thoroughbreds. However, unlike, in “Stoker”, the characters of the present film are all more interesting to watch as each of them unveils their hidden personalities, and the audience marvels at Amanda and Lily’s audacity. 

The film’s content lags behind the execution, and the film’s theatrical presentation and unlikable characters mean that the audience is unlikely to be emotionally involved.

Thoroughbreds’s direction is controlled, and much merit of the film is probably due to the smart directional choices. Thoroughbreds is stylishly executed, especially the scene where Tim (Yelchin) first walks into Lily’s family home and is awed by all the possessions on display. The parallels with the work of Yorgos Lanthimos can be made because the camera presentation is often cold and detached (a silent observer), despite the subject matter, and, as Lanthimos, the director here plays with his audiences’ expectations, while awkwardness and suspense heighten. Little is known about Cory Finley (the director), but, being his first movie, the result is even more impressive. The film is also now known as the last film of a very talented young actor Anton Yelchin, who passed away at the age of 28 in Los Angeles in 2016. Yelchin plays an outlaw and a rebel in Thoroughbreds, but the morbid charm of his character still shines through, and initially works like magic on the two “innocent” girls.

anton yelchin

Wealthy and respectable American homes that present their impeccable outside only to harbour troubled secretive lives within have graced the screens before: Mendes’s American Beauty (1999) and films of David Lynch. Troubled young girls, trying to find their life paths and Internet’s effect on them, are also nothing new – Ingrid Goes West (2017). However, Thoroughbreds attempts to focus on a psychological triangle specifically, playing with expectations, always falling just a step short of a full and brave delivery. Where may the problem lie? The director/writer may have taken a gamble here with having two unsympathetic characters, but, it did not really pay off well. There is some “delicious” psychopathy on display, the music is fitting, and some scenes are very memorable, but there are also moments in the film which are slow and frustrating. There are also some funny moments, but it would all have been funnier, if it were not also so very sad. The thing is that the film’s content lags behind the execution, and the film’s theatrical presentation and unlikable characters mean that the audience is unlikely to be emotionally involved, hence the lukewarm feelings about the ending. 

Thoroughbreds may be an excellent debut of director Cory Finley, but the film’s smart presentation, rich visuals and the characterisation still excel greatly over the plot and the film’s overall effect. Cooke, Taylor-Joy and Yelchin all perform well and their characters are interesting and intriguing, but watching Thoroughbreds still feels like anticipating a ticking device to go-off and being poorly rewarded for the wait. No real “excitement” comes, and when it seems it does so, the result is something too unbelievable coming too late. Given the emotionally-detached aura of the film, the pay-off is small, and, like Amanda in the story, the audience may simply stop caring.


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Rachel says:

    I really really loved this movie but I agree with your criticisms – I think it built toward a climax that didn’t quite deliver in the same way as Lanthimos did with TKOASD. Definitely excited to see what this director does next though. Something about the composition of this film just really clicked with me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      Thanks for agreeing, the composition was really superb.

      I mean, in Heathers the victims were largely bullies, in American Psycho, there was a real serial killer on the loose, but here we are not even sure why the stepdad is so evil and has to be “justifiably” killed. I just thought they should have written it in such a way as for us to at least sympathise with one of the girls. Because we do not, I did not care what happens to the two, and expected some mystery or bombshell to be dropped every twenty minutes of this film.

      In TKOASD (I love your abbreviation), at least there was something inexplicable going on and that was capturing all the attention.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. John Charet says:

    Great post 🙂 I have not seen the film yet, but hopefully Cory Finley can go on to improve himself with each film. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jordan Dodd says:

    Okay yep you had me at dark comedy and mentioning Lanthimos. I’ve been tossing up whether to watch this… I think I shall 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      I’d recommend seeing it. The execution was superb. I just wished more was done to the story so we actually care about the end.


      1. Jordan Dodd says:

        hmmm i’ll give it a shot i reckon!

        Liked by 1 person

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