Olivia Cooke (Me, Earl and the Dying Girl) and Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split) leap from the screen in Thoroughbreds, a film that gifts them both deliciously dark characters to race head first into.
When Amanda (Cooke) kills her family’s horse, her mother arranges for her to reconnect with old friend Lily (Taylor-Joy). The two are supposed to help each other study, but they immediately fall into trading barbs, exploring each other’s issues and poking at each other’s psyches. Amanda is in therapy and seemingly unconcerned that she can’t feel emotions; Lily is troubled by her alpha male stepfather Mark. When the pair plans to kill Mark and enlist the help of a local small-time drug dealer (the late, great Anton Yelchin), events take a turn for the murderous.
Set almost entirely in Mark’s huge house, the camera prowls around the grounds following these characters and exploring their warped sense of morality. The girls are surrounded by luxury; sofas so big the pair can’t fill them, swimming pools where they can play at holding their breath and gardens that require not one but two workers to mow the lawns. They are members of a privileged Connecticut society but left almost completely to their own devices, Amanda and Lily devise a dangerous and terrible scheme.
What’s fascinating and keeps Thoroughbreds largely gripping are the ruthless and manipulative manner that the pair goes about their business. While Olivia Cooke’s Amanda appears the colder and more calculating, she emerges as the slightly less interesting character as the story progresses. Her role is to draw the worst from Lily and Anya Taylor-Joy is revelatory as she descends from warm, to cool to ice cold. It’s a fascinating turn and a well-written character. Director/writer Cory Finley doesn’t go for the easy option of making Mark utterly loathsome (though he definitely has his moments) and it’s hard to fully side with the girls as they manipulate their way towards murder.
With the score and cinematography of a horror film, but the wit and moral murkiness of a neo-noir, Thoroughbreds is a confidently directed thriller. With its privileged kids and their preppy costumes, it recalls Heathers but lacking in more outrageous moments. It’s also a testament to the talents of Anton Yelchin who brings a welcome dash of pathos as he is lured into the girl’s games. His drug dealer with big ambitions musters some sympathy and showcases the vulnerability of Yelchin’s persona, as well as his knack for comedy.
But Cooke and Taylor-Joy dominate proceedings as they confidently embrace their characters. There are no real surprises in where it goes but it is particularly fun to watch how Taylor-Joy’s character develops. Perhaps a little too cold and calculated, Thoroughbreds is dark, but lacking in real bite. A fairly impressive beast then, but not a race winner.
THOROUGHBREDS / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: CORY FINLEY / STARRING: ANYA TAYLOR-JOY, OLIVIA COOKE, ANTON YELCHIN / RELEASE DATE: 9TH MARCH 2018
Expected Rating: 7