Cory Finley’s confident directorial debut depicts two upper-class girls with murder on the mind (y’know, average chick flick ordeal). With many twists and turns and two phenomenal lead performances, this gripping thriller with a comedic twist will leave you floored by its conclusion.
Thoroughbreds was absolutely not what I was anticipating. After seeing the trailer about a year ago and becoming immediately interested by the premise, I was expecting an entertaining dark comedy where the characters go through positive arcs and we all end up happy by the end. Fun, serviceable, American Psycho for teenagers kind of deal. However, within the first five minutes, as Erik Friedlander’s disturbing score began to kick in, and the camera ominously stalked behind the character as she wandered through the mansion’s empty halls, I knew this would be something special. And it certainly was.
The way our two leads Lily and Amanda, played by Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke respectively, are portrayed is really interesting. You’re never quite sure who the main character is until the end of the film, meaning you’re on your toes at all times trying to figure out what’s going on in their heads. There is certain information which would normally be disclosed much later on in a different film, but here it is instead put out in the open for all to see. I’m talking specifically about the nature of Amanda’s disorder. Instead of playing some tired ‘liar revealed’ plotline, she says almost immediately that she is unable to experience emotion. By doing so, you’re left wondering where her character can go from here. Perhaps she’ll learn to feel again by getting to know Lily, or maybe there will be a bleak ending in the same vein as Manchester by the Sea, where nothing changes and the film serves as a brutal commentary on the unfortunate staying power of mental health issues. I shall not spoil what the film leads up to by the end, but needless to say, it certainly wasn’t what I expected, which is so refreshing. Although, since we immediately understand Amanda as a character, our attention also turns to Lily, whose first appearance is in a neat dress with perfect makeup and a liar’s smile. While Amanda is extremely outgoing with her thoughts and opinions, caring not for the way she is perceived by others, Lily is much cagier. Instead of allowing herself to be vulnerable to others, she appears to bottle up her emotions, under the facade of a stable person. Of course, the reason for her inner demons is revealed in the film but I’ll leave it at that. The way she transforms from mild-mannered, quiet but troubled young girl to how she is by the film’s conclusion is very subtle and you don’t really realise until it’s too late.
Of course, my overarching point, and the reason this film works so well is that it never feels condescending to your intelligence and, more importantly, it never became predictable. However, unlike (please don’t hate me I like this film) The Last Jedi, where the fact that it is defying conventions becomes predictable itself at points, every twist in the story of Thoroughbreds feels unique, refreshing, and never easy to anticipate. However, despite the premise of two teenagers attempting to kill one of their stepdads, the plot somehow never devolves into absurdity. Everything is so surprisingly grounded in reality. Certain characters take certain actions which make complete sense and completely divert the storyline in a different direction than expected. Lily and even the cold and calculating Amanda both make mistakes for which they face consequences, sometimes in the real world and, if not that, the ones inside their heads.
Everything in the film exists to serve one key theme: the true nature of being human. Amanda, being the way she is, has already accepted that human beings are just animals waiting to be released from their self-imposed cocoons. However, despite Amanda being introduced as having no particular interest in her physical appearance, as aforementioned, Lily is first seen dressed and all made up in a way that is likely designed to impress. She hides her true nature inside this shell she enters every day, to appear as though she’s just a regular human being like any other. Especially in an upper-class society, Lily is likely expected to always act pleasant and respectable, not like those below her. She could never stoop to, say, Amanda’s level. It’s in the title: Thoroughbreds. Just like horses, Lily and Amanda are born and bred to fit a mould, a particular purpose, typically one which exists to benefit their owners, who are, in this case, their parents. They are brought up to be a certain way, act a certain way, serve others in a certain way, which ultimately goes against their natural coding. Amanda was a star horse rider, who likely had great potential in that particular field, but she eventually succumbed to her natural state, that being a person void of feelings. Lily, after a traumatic event in her life, is suddenly thrust into a world of upper-class life by her remarried mother and expected to change her whole character to suit that new lifestyle. This ultimately breaks her, showing her true nature underneath the layers of lies and misdirections. This all culminates in a somewhat haunting, and certainly memorable conclusion with a bittersweet taste. It’s an ending which will likely stick with me for a good while.
Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds is a truly captivating watch and an admirable first outing for the writer/director, which leaves a lot to chew on. It’s a fairly accessible film with a straightforward narrative, but by no means does that make it a lesser final product. Please, please, please check out what is (at this point in time) my favourite film of 2018.