A Darkly Funny Story of Friendship and Murder.
Directed by Cory Finley / 2018
Thoroughbreds is a sharply written black comedy with a great cast doing good work. The story of two classmates, Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy, Split) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl), it’s the feature film debut of its writer and director Cory Finley. Amanda and Lily are old schoolmates who have drifted apart, but find themselves back in each others orbit, and soon they begin planning a murder together. And they say that young people don’t have any direction in their lives these days.
The two girls reunite when Amanda’s mother hires Lily to help Amanda prep for college. Amanda knows that Lily is only rekindling their relationship for the money, but she doesn’t care about that. In fact, she can’t care because Amanda is incapable of feeling any human emotion. This disconnect from even basic feelings like happiness, anger or hurt hasn’t won Amanda many friends. Lily, however, finds the ability to be totally honest with Amanda relieving and soon the two of them have begun a genuine friendship.
Lily finds the ability to be totally honest with Amanda relieving and soon the two of them have begun a genuine friendship.
It turns out that despite all appearances, not all is well in Lily’s world. After the death of Lily’s father, her mother married a jerk named Mark (Paul Sparks, House of Cards). Lily has been expelled from the expensive boarding school she was being sent to, and is informed her parents are sending her to a home for girls with emotional problems. Lily attempts to talk her mother out of that decision, but Mark tells her it’s a done deal and Lily has no say in the matter.
So the girls begin to conspire together to murder Mark, as Lily becomes convinced its the only way forward. They rope a third-rate drug dealer, Tim (Anton Yelchin in what is regrettably his final film role) into their plot, blackmailing him into shooting Mark in what they hope will appear as a robbery gone wrong. Tim is naturally reluctant to go along with this plan, but Lily and Amanda don’t give him any choice in the matter. For all her anguish as to how controlling Mark is in her life, Lily doesn’t give any thoughts to how Tim might feel about killing a total stranger.
Lily doesn’t give any thoughts to how Tim might feel about killing a total stranger.
The performances in the film are all first-rate, with especially strong turns by Cooke as Amanda and Yelchin as Tim. Playing someone who can’t feel anything would seem to be a serious impediment to an actor, but Cooke pulls it off. Despite her unemotional appearance, we can still get a sense as to what might be going on behind her eyes, and it is clear even early on that on some level, Amanda finds value in her relationship with Lily. It’s an appropriately subdued performance, but it’s not empty.
The dialogue is smartly written. That shouldn’t be surprising considering that Cory Finley has made his name up to this point as a playwright, working with New York’s Ensemble Studio Theater. What is surprising, and delightfully so, is Finley’s visual acumen. He has a good eye for interesting compositions and blocking for the screen, without being too showy about it.
If there’s any misstep in the movie, it’s in the way it treats Mark. We’re first introduced to Mark through a pair of photos of himself he keeps on his desk in his home office. In one, he poses with a lion he has just hunted and killed, and in the other he poses dramatically with a samurai sword. So, yeah, Mark is that type of guy. And the movie never takes any pains to develop any more empathy with Mark as a character. He’s a complete jerk from the moment we meet him to the end, so when the girls begin to serious contemplate murdering him, the plan seems much less horrific than it otherwise would.
Thoroughbreds is a strong debut for Finley. His keen eye and flair for composition added to his snappy scripting makes me look forward to whatever he has coming next.