It may only be April, but Thoroughbreds has already cemented itself as one of the most interesting films of the year. It is the film debut for millennial playwright Cory Finley and features powerful performances from its leading actresses, both of whom are under the age of 25. Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split) and Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Bates Motel) shine as Lily and Amanda, former besties who rekindle their friendship as they plan a murder. It’s a black comedy for sure, and the majority of the film is just talking, but it’s the slow burn feel-fest that deviant teens have been waiting for.
Finley doesn’t hide his playwright-beginnings well, but that’s assuming he was trying to hide them in the first place. All of Finely’s characters are, on the surface, pure archetypes. Lily is completely emotional, while Amanda is completely emotionless. Lily’s stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks), is always serious, and drug dealer Tim (Anton Yelchin) is entirely comic relief. However, while Finley’s archetypes are clear products of the stage, they translate brilliantly onto screen. The world of Thoroughbreds is black and white, with every character doing exactly what you expect. And yet, you can’t help but sit at the edge of your seat, waiting patiently to see if anyone will stray from from their predetermined arc, because for some reason, you’re sure that they will.
There is a lot to like about this film aside from the writing and direction (which are, admittedly, very good). For one, the performances are mesmerizing, particularly indie-breakout Anya Taylor-Joy, who has now officially sealed her fate as the psychological-horror “it girl.” Another that stands out is Anton Yelchin, who, in his final film role, graces us with the funniest and most delusional drug dealer we have seen in a long while. The cinematography is tense, the timing is perfect, and the score is unsettling (thanks to some ominous percussion and features from Inuit throat singer, Tanya Tagaq). Though there is no particularly weak link in the film, it is not entirely satisfying on the whole. Despite its incredible parts, the film feels very much like a first effort. It’s not the worst thing a film can be, but it seems like Cory Finley just needs a little more time to fulfill his full potential.
Thoroughbreds is not a grand film. It is not likely to gain any awards buzz or hit the top of any year-end lists, but it does have a future. Twenty years from now, this film will be required viewing for high school outcasts everywhere. It will exist in the same breath as Heathers, Donnie Darko, Clerksand The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And that’s right where it belongs. ★★★½