Written and Directed by Cory Finley
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift
BFI London Film Festival Review by Chris Olson
Loaded with bleak cynicism and detached rage, Cory Finley's Thoroughbreds is as dark as arsenic poisoning and just as bitter but a gripping drama/thriller with two incredible central performances.
Anya Taylor-Joy plays Lily, a wealthy student on the cusp of adulthood as she prepares for exams and her college future. Her chances of academic success become increasingly unlikely, though, as she begins spending time tutoring the town's horse murderer, Amanda (Olivia Cooke). Known for being outstandingly odd, Amanda admits early on in Thoroughbreds to feeling no emotions whatsoever, and her actions during the movie attest that this is not hyperbole, but instead a tragic character defect which comes to symbolise the very essence of Finley's story.
As the two rekindle their childhood friendship, a plot begins to emerge whereby Lily might have the chance to off her mum's coldly controlling partner Mark (Paul Sparks) using a local drug peddler Tim (Anton Yelchin) as the fall guy.
Failing to succumb to too many narrative conventions, Thoroughbreds becomes a different animal altogether. The four chapter structure keeps the story unpredictable and the unlikely central dynamic is kept raw and compelling throughout. Amanda and Lily are two undeniably disturbed characters, and when you combine the former's proclivity for immense violence and the latter's yearning for freedom, then an intense atmosphere is introduced which is maintained consistently, brilliantly clutching the aforementioned thriller aspect.
The performances are outstanding across the board. Cooke is on fine form as the numbed but curious teenager without a filter, like a modern Wednesday Adams, enjoying some beautiful physical aspects to the role such as fake crying or fake smiling in front of the mirror. Taylor-Joy is phenomenal in her turn, eschewing the tawdry depictions of rich kids for something more tangible and affecting. Her arc is also the most established in the movie. It was heartbreaking and euphoric to watch Yelchin deliver one of his final performances, the film is dedicated to him. His enigmatic screen presence dazzled as usual and he delivered a marvellously complicated supporting character with effortless skill. I would also like to pick out Sparks who is simply gripping as the terrifying lord of the manor. His deadpan lines and calculated demeanour make him a fascinating character to ponder.
The comedy can at times becomes over reliant on Cooke being kooky, letting her outrageous comments serve as unfeeling mic drops on numerous occasions. They do sometimes however pack a philosophical punch and these are some of the best moments in Finley's film. Another gripe would be the sound design which sounded like someone got paid a ton of money to f*** around with any instrument they could find regardless of timing or plot.
All that being said, though, this is a remarkable film. It's inventive with its characters and bold with its filmmaking, and is able to articulate its palpable rage at the world without screaming itself horse.
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