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With: Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift, Kaili Vernoff
Written by: Cory Finley
Directed by: Cory Finley
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing behavior, bloody images, language, sexual references, and some drug content
Running Time: 92
Date: 03/08/2018

Thoroughbreds (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dark Horses

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Playwright Cory Finley makes his feature writing and directing debut with Thoroughbreds, and it's a very strong one, one that could get our hopes up for great things from him in the future. It's something of a genre film, and it could be called a horror film or a thriller or both... or a film noir or a dark comedy or even a family melodrama. It seems to switch gears, unexpectedly, every so often and somehow always stays on track. It never forsakes its tone. It may not be a true original — already it has drawn comparisons to American Psycho, Heathers, Heavenly Creatures, and others — but it's original enough, and these days that is impressive.

Amanda (Olivia Cooke) is a young woman who claims to feel nothing, and has even invented a way to fake-cry so that she can appear sympathetic when the times call for it. After a gruesome incident in which she tries to put down a sick horse, she is tutored by her one-time best friend Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy, that remarkable young actress from The Witch, Morgan, and Split). Lily claims she's doing this for friendship, but is really being paid. When Amanda finds out and confronts Lily about it, coldly, logically, their friendship becomes strengthened by these new strands of truth.

Lily, meanwhile, lives with her meek mother and her stepfather, a smarmy exercise nut, Mark (Paul Sparks), who berates Lily's mother and whose fancy rowing machine is parked just above the TV room. It regularly interrupts Lily's viewing with mechanical sliding/thudding noises. Mark is a serious jerk and regularly yells at Lily's mom; he also uses his connections to tranfser her into a new school, a school for "troubled girls," which is an unacceptable situation. Hearing Amanda explaining the story of the horse gives her a murderous idea.

At first they approach a local drug-dealer, Tim (the late Anton Yelchin, heartbreakingly, in his final performance), who likes to prey on high schoolers, for the job. They assume that Tim has a gun, and he does. But Tim also has ambition, and the weirdest kind of human soul. He may be a lowdown scum, but he cares, and he tries hard, and he has ideas. He could be a good person in other circumstances, which, strangely, is actually the case with all of these characters.

I will stop there with the plot description, but I need to encourage viewers not to blink during the movie's absolutely amazing, heart-stopping finale, a very long shot that might be one for the books. Astonishingly, Finley began Thoroughbreds as a play, and yet it has become something sublimely cinematic. Finley already has a knowledge and a skill for camera placement and for what kinds of things to place offscreen, whether it's visual or audio information, and uses this to create conflict and tension. Yet he also understands humans, as awful or as marginal as they are.

This movie is truly messed up and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope that there is an audience for Thoroughbreds. Goodness knows that viewers over the years have shown very specific wants. They like things to be the same fairly often, but not too much the same. Things that are terribly different spook them, but sometimes something different comes across as fresh and not threatening. Perhaps Thoroughbreds will be one of those things that questions the rigid guidelines of genre, and suggests that other ideas are possible.

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