Watching a teenage girl personally euthanising the family horse is quite a way to start Cory Finley’s directorial debut Thoroughbreds, and it’s a glorious sign of things to come – for what transpires is a unique, resourceful thriller that seems compelled to never quite go the way you expect it to – which is so rarely a bad thing in cinema.
Amanda (Olivia Cooke) is the aforementioned euthaniser, who is struggling with her schoolwork, while in her social life is having to contend with the fact she feels no emotions – about anything at all. Her mother pays one of Amanda’s oldest, sort-of-friends Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) to be her study partner, forcing the pair to reconnect, in the latter’s grandiose home where she lives with her mum, and tyrannical step-father (Paul Sparks). Both girls seem deeply unhappy about certain aspects of their life, and so concoct a plan to make things, well, a little easier – which is when Tim (Anton Yelchin) comes into the picture.
The opening act for this film makes for truly captivating cinema, as the more subtle sequences of the two girls just sat on the couch conversing represent some of the film’s very best scenes, with one in particular standing out when they’re both trying to make themselves cry. But, narratively speaking, the film does lose its way a little as we progress, perhaps moving too far away from simplicity and vying to achieve a little too much. The one consistent, however, is the indelible tone and unique atmosphere to this piece, enriched – and informed – by the excellent score, which keeps the viewer on edge right from the offset, even in times when it would appear there’s no palpable reason to feel tense, but such is the power of music, it’s impossible not to.
This points to a filmmaker with so much potential, as while a flawed endeavour, it already feels distinctively his, as Finley has determined his own voice after just one movie. Also the way he uses space is so effective, reminiscent of Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden in how he uses his camera in such a vast building, ensuring we never really remain claustrophobic despite it being set in one house for such large periods. But the director is lucky too that these characters have been left in the hands of two such excellent young performances, as both Cooke and Taylor-Joy shine in the leading roles, not to mention the final, impressive turn from Yelchin, in what was tragically his final cinematic endeavour before his passing – to ensure this is most definitely a film worth watching.