Thoroughbreds [Review by Haus]
Thoroughbreds is special little thriller. Right from go, it’s unpredictable — it plays every scene just a little differently than you expect. If you take your teen-angst pictures dark, cold, and set in the idyll of Connecticut’s WASPiest surrounds, you’ll love this one.
Thoroughbreds was shot in under a month, premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival (under the name “Thoroughbred,” although I didn’t manage to see it there), and has since picked up distribution through Focus Features. The film is notable both as director Cory Finley’s first feature film, and, unfortunately, as Anton Yelchin’s last (he died two weeks after wrap, crushed by his own Jeep in his driveway).
Anya Taylor-Joy plays Lily Reynolds, a rich high schooler who boards at Andover, lives in a grand old manse, and whose stepfather (Paul Sparks) is a humorless and petulant douche (think financier-cum-rowing machine, fancy road bike, and juice cleanse). Lily is sensitive, demure, and privileged, but with a mean little peach-pit of a soul; Taylor-Joy tacks smoothly between lovable ingenue and steely-eyed schemer like a seasoned professional, and is a delight to watch.
But it’s Olivia Cooke who really slices the screen in two as Amanda, Lily’s near-emotionless childhood friend who’s utterly laconic and immune to any slight; she’s a Vulcan minus the ears and morals, and will pitch a murder like it’s a choice of creamer. I’m amazed that Cooke is able to render so sympathetic a character so necessarily flat and wooden. She’s great here, and her deadpan utterances keep matters lively, even when shit gets dark.
For his swan song, Anton Yelchin plays a ne’er do well local drug dealer with big (unrealistic) dreams. Quite aside from his rather tangential role in the story, his character exists mainly as a not-so-fast drink in the face for all us rubberneckers admiring the girls’ lifestyles. He’s good here, but it’s a shame he had to end his run with such a sad-sack to play.
This is a coming-of-age story set not in the halls of some bright-palette high school, but in the dank recesses of the unencumbered id. I call this refreshing. So often, teen-focused stories turn on the fundamental morality and goodness of people, the upside of life, the nice stuff. Thoroughbreds strips all that, carving all flesh from the narrative bones and celebrating instead the empty, the unthinkable, the selfish. The poster says it, and I agree — Thoroughbreds has a lot of American Psycho in it, which here is not at all a bad thing. (And it certainly shares that film’s fetishistic fixation on superficial beauty, though it’s also less self-aware in doing so.)
You might take Thoroughbreds as satire, though I don’t. You may see it as fundamentally (and somehow) life affirming, though I certainly did not. To me, Thoroughbreds is a well-shot, well-made, well-acted little cancer on the cult of positivity, with some Breakers-level decor choices and some wickedly fun badness in the mix. It’s neither cathartic nor rewarding in a traditional sense, but it’s a sui generis trip to the pictures — and the fun is in the telling.
Haus Verdict: An unexpected, hard-hearted little thriller with bulletproof leads, scrumptious WASPy spreads, and a deeply bitter worldview. A real treat, if you’ve got the taste for that.
Thoroughbreds opened Friday March 9.